Judge’s Ruling on Arizona Medical Marijuana Law Orders State to Allow Dispensaries

Arizona Governor Jan BrewerArizona Governor Jan BrewerArizona is a step closer to full implementation of its voter-approved medical marijuana law with a judges’ ruling that the state must proceed with allowing creation of dispensaries.

The order issued Wednesday by Judge Richard Gama of Maricopa County Superior Court also overturns some of the state’s planned restrictions on who can qualify for dispensary licenses, including restrictions based on residency and financial background.

Would-be dispensary operators had sued to challenge both Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision not to award dispensary licenses and some restrictions in the state’s dispensary rules.

Brewer can appeal Gama’s ruling, but she previously directed administration officials to begin preparations for implementing the dispensary part of the law pending resolution of the court case.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said Thursday the governor and her lawyers were reviewing the ruling and considering her options. Tyrrell Taber, a lawyer for the challengers, did not immediately return a call for comment on the ruling.

The state implemented parts of the law, allowing thousands of people to obtain qualified patients cards. Versions of those cards allow people to possess medical marijuana and to grow their own marijuana.

Brewer last year said she would not fully implement the law because she feared that state employees could face federal criminal prosecution for administering the dispensary provisions because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

However, Brewer on Friday announced she wouldn’t refile a lawsuit seeking a ruling on whether state employees who issue dispensary licenses are at risk of federal prosecution under the law. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the state’s suit earlier this month.

Gama said the state had no discretion to put off implementing parts of the law, despite Brewer’s concerns about federal prosecution. The voters intended that the law be implemented, Gama wrote, “This has not been done.”

While Gama overturned some of the rules on dispensaries as going beyond what the medical marijuana law requires, the judge upheld others that he said were legal. Those included ones requiring certain disclosures and compliance with state law.

Health Services Department Director Will Humble said last week that the state could begin accepting dispensary licenses by summer if the legal case were resolved soon.

However, department spokeswoman Laura Oxley said timing of what happens next is uncertain because of the possibility of an appeal and the certain need to revise the state’s rules, even if just to update their timetables.

Granting dismissal motions by the federal government and supporters of the state’s medical marijuana law, a federal judge ruled Jan. 4 that the state’s lawsuit wasn’t legally eligible for court consideration. The suit was filed on May 28 as the state suspended the health department’s plan to begin processing dispensary applications last June.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton said the state hadn’t established a genuine threat of prosecution of state employees for administering the law, as Brewer had claimed.

Brewer had opposed the medical marijuana law when it was before voters as a 2010 initiative measure.

The law legalizes medical marijuana use for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. It was approved by voters by a tiny margin of just 4,341 votes out of more than 1.67 million votes counted.

– Article from The Republic.