Unexpected Ally for MMJ? Governor Rejects Request to Halt Arizona Medical Marijuana Program

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My how the times have changed. Last summer, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer launched an assault on the state’s budding medical marijuana industry, putting the dispensary licensing program on hold and challenging it in court.

This summer, she is protecting it. Sorta.

After losing her initial battle to prevent cannabis centers from opening, Brewer has abandoned her attempts to dismantle the program and is now defending it as the first dispensaries prepare to launch. This week, she rejected a written request by more than a dozen county attorneys to put the dispensary and patient-licensing programs on ice. The county attorneys argue that state employees who work with the programs are at risk and warn that the federal government will likely shut down the dispensaries anyway, as in California.

The governor – a critic of the state’s MMJ laws – hasn’t had a change of heart on the issue of medical marijuana in general. Rather, she says it is her duty to follow the will of the people and implement the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Brewer added that she’ll only change her stance if she receives a court order demanding a halt to the program (which she tried, and failed, to get).

Whatever her reasoning, the MMJ industry will take it. The fact that the governor has decided not to interfere again is encouraging, and the state remains on track to select the first round of dispensary finalists.

But new storm clouds could be gathering on the horizon. One county attorney said she’s been told the U.S. attorney for Arizona plans to prevent each and every dispensary from opening. That would be a major blow to medical marijuana efforts not only in Arizona but also around the country, as other states in the process of launching dispensaries could use a similar justification to halt their programs.

Perhaps that’s exactly what Brewer wants, as it would justify her earlier assault on Arizona’s dispensary program. But she’s unlikely to get even that, as a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told the Arizona Republic that the federal government’s policies on MMJ in Arizona have not changed since February. That indicates dispensaries could open as planned.