Arizona Governor Moves to Block Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) announced at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that she has instructed the state attorney general to file a federal lawsuit to seek clarification of the legality of the state’s medical marijuana law. That means that the dispensary licensing portion of the program will most likely be put on hold pending a “declaratory judgment” sought by the governor.

Under the Arizona law, most patients would have to rely on a system of licensed dispensaries to obtain their medicine. They or their caregivers cannot grow their own unless they live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.

Brewer said she was prompted to act because of a threatening letter sent by US Attorney Dennis Burke. In that May 2 letter, Burke warned Department of Health Services Director Will Humble that the state’s medical marijuana law conflicted with the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Growing, distributing and possessing marijuana, in any capacity, other than as a federally authorized research program is a violation of federal law,” Burke wrote. “Compliance with Arizona laws and regulations does not provide a safe harbor, nor immunity from federal prosecution.”

Brewer said Tuesday that Burke’s letter made her fear for state employees who would be issuing dispensary licenses and patient and caregiver registration cards.

“I just cannot sit on the sidelines and allow the federal government to put my state employees at risk,” Brewer said. “That letter really muddied the waters… I intend to get answers because peoples’ lives and careers are at stake.”

Brewer’s move comes little more than a month after the program went into effect, and 3,600 patients have already registered, but the dispensary portion of the program is not fully up and running yet.

“We are moving in the direction” of ordering the Department of Health Services not to issue dispensary permits, Brewer said.

A Brewer spokesman, Matthew Benson, told the Arizona Republic later Tuesday that the governor’s advice to the department on dispensary permits was “imminent, in the next few days.”

Brewer, who opposed last November’s initiative making medical marijuana the law of the land, said she was not trying to overturn the election results, nor was she defending the medical marijuana law.

“We will not take a substantive position, either to thwart the will of voters or to try to impose our own policy views,” Horne said. “We are simply saying to the federal court, ‘We need a resolution of these competing pressures.'”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which helped draft the medical marijuana initiative, wasn’t buying it. “We are deeply frustrated by this announcement,” said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. “The law Gov. Brewer wants enjoined established an extremely well thought-out and conservative medical marijuana system. The law was drafted so that a very limited number of nonprofit dispensaries would serve the needs of patients who would be registered with the state. Governor Brewer is trying to disrupt this orderly system and replace it with relative chaos,” he said.

“Patients would not purchase their medicine at state-regulated dispensaries, Kampia continued. “Instead, they or their caregivers would grow marijuana in homes across the state. Some will even be forced to find their medicine on the streets. We cannot think of a single individual — aside from possibly illegal drug dealers — who would benefit from Gov. Brewer’s actions today. She has done a disservice to her state and its citizens.”

Brewer is only the latest politician to use threatening letters from federal prosecutors as a reason to back away from medical marijuana dispensaries. Earlier this month, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee halted the state’s dispensary program after getting a letter from the feds, and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire gutted a dispensary bill that had reached her desk citing the same reasons.

– Article originally from Stop the Drug War.