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Arizona’s Dynamic Medical Marijuana Program

Buds of the Harlequin strain in a jar at a dispensary in Arizona.


Arizona’s Dynamic Medical Marijuana Program

Photo courtesy of Dank Depot

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana program is one that has continued to evolve since its inception in 2010 with the passing of Proposition 203. The program has undergone several major changes this year with the possibility of more changes on the horizon.

In March, an Arizona Superior Court ruled in favor of letting 5-year-old boy Zander Welton use marijuana extracts also known as concentrates. Zander has severe epilepsy and has suffered from debilitating seizures for most of his life. This ruling allowed his parents and physicians to resume treating his seizure disorder with a marijuana extract, treatment that was denied throughout his trial. Judge Katherine Cooper concluded that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) allows for patients to use marijuana extracts without fear of prosecution. This ruling allowed patients to use and possess all types concentrates and permitted dispensaries and caregivers to offer concentrates to their patients.

In July Arizona Superior Court Judge Richard Fields ruled that the state doesn’t have the right to prosecute medical marijuana patients who sell marijuana to other medical marijuana patients. The existing rules make clear that a medical marijuana patient can’t be prosecuted “for offering or providing marijuana to a registered qualifying patient or a registered designated caregiver for the registered qualifying patient’s medical use or to a registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary if nothing of value is transferred in return and the person giving the marijuana does not knowingly cause the recipient to possess more than the allowable amount of marijuana.”

It was determined that the “nothing of value” is only within the scope of patient to dispensary sales and doesn’t apply in situations where medical marijuana patients sell marijuana to other medical marijuana patients. This decision must survive appeal before it can be used as precedence for future court cases. If the decision makes it through the appeal process it will become a published decision making it applicable in all of Arizona instead of just Pima County where it could apply currently. At this point most people involved in the state’s medical marijuana program are taking a wait-and-see approach concerning the decision’s validity and applications.

Phoenix-based attorney Ryan Hurley, a partner and chair of Rose Law Group’s Medical Marijuana practice group, warns, “This is not a green light to sell. This is just one judge’s interpretation of the law. It is still very possible to get arrested and charged with selling marijuana, and if the case went in front of a different judge, that judge could come to a different conclusion than Judge Fields. Only if the decision by Judge Fields survives the appeal process should it be considered okay to proceed with sales between patients.”

On Sept. 9 Tucson City Council unanimously voted to lift the current zoning restrictions on those authorized to cultivate within city limits. Before this action cultivation of medical marijuana within city limits was restricted to an area of 3,000 feet. In theory, this expansion of grow room space should reduce the need of dispensaries to import marijuana from Phoenix, lower product prices and expand the variety of strains available to patients. The city council also voted to extend hours of operation for dispensaries, to allow for marijuana infusion kitchens at dispensaries and off-site cultivation facilities as well as allow patients get medical marijuana delivered to their home.

The most recent development in this turbulent atmosphere of policy change is the challenging of Arizona’s medical marijuana program’s restriction of patients rights to grow marijuana. Currently, only medical marijuana patients who live 25 miles away from a medical marijuana dispensary have the right to grow marijuana, which leaves 96 percent of the state is in area that’s uncultivable as the rule stands now.

Billy Hayes, member of the Gilbert Arizona chapter of NORML has filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona, claiming that the restriction on growing marijuana for some patients, but not others, is unconstitutional. Hayes is asking the courts to allow medical marijuana patients to grow until a decision is made. Along with the lawsuit, Hayes has opened Arizona’s first private social club called Purple Haze House where medical marijuana patients can come use marijuana and sell it to one another.

Jon Gettel president of AZ4NORML expressed that all these changes are part of the normal process of reforming a medical marijuana program to make it more patient friendly, “What we knew when Prop 203 passed is that it wasn’t a perfect bill, that we were going to have to challenge it on many different levels through the courts and unfortunately through our friends getting arrested and challenging it through the criminal justice system…We have to keep trying.”

What’s the medical marijuana program like in your state? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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