What’s in a name? For most of us, the distinction between the names “marijuana” and “cannabis” means a robust debate about the history of prohibition and the relative propriety and accuracy of using one name or another.
But for Arizona patients seeking relief from concentrates like shatter and wax, the distinction between those names might mean the difference between safe access and jail time. The deciding factor? How courts ultimately decide to reconcile the overlap of an outdated state narcotics law and an imprecisely defined medical marijuana law.
At issue is the Arizona criminal code — a pre-1960 relic that classifies marijuana and cannabis as two separate substances. Under this law, “cannabis” is the legal name for any extraction or concentration of marijuana resin. It’s also classified as a narcotic and carries stiffer criminal penalties than marijuana.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act legalizes “marijuana” and “any mixture or preparation thereof,” but according to the ruling of a Navajo County Superior Court judge, that does not encompass “cannabis.”
The ruling came in a case concerning a 26-year-old man who had a valid medical marijuana card, but was not allowed to legally possess resin because the resin was considered “cannabis.”
From the Phoenix New Times:
“After review of the statues the court finds that the AMMA does not include cannabis,” Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson wrote in his October ruling. “The court reads that AMMA language of ‘any mixture or preparation thereof’ as making reference to the dried flowers of the plant and as such, without further definition, or information that cannabis can be extracted from a ‘dried flower,’ the court cannot find that this would include cannabis.”
However, a previous ruling on the same legal distinction between “marijuana” and “cannabis” reached the opposite conclusion when local law enforcement attempted to crack down on edibles using the same legal argument.
A ruling out of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, ruled the opposite way. In 2014, after Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery hit a patient with a felony narcotics charge for having a single piece of THC-infused candy, a Maricopa judge ruled that the state’s medical cannabis law indeed “authorizes qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil, prepared from the marijuana plant.”
In both instances, zealous law enforcement efforts are at the root of these cases; neither arose from a large scale distribution or manufacturing operation — one was an arrest over a few grams of hash, the other started with a single piece of medicated candy.
But since neither of these rulings creates a binding state precedent — and because there’s such a stark contrast between the competing interpretations — the issue is likely to ultimately come before the state Supreme Court.
But in the meantime, patients, retailers and producers are still left in a tenuous position: Without clear legal parameters concerning the legality of concentrates, edibles and other cannabis products, they’re at the mercy of local ordinances and often overzealous prosecutors and police, who seem dead set on prosecuting “cannabis” offenders under the state criminal code.
And if higher courts ultimately do uphold the prohibition on “cannabis” concentrates, edibles and tinctures? It would be absolute chaos for an already established medical retail system that serves over 89,000 people.
TELL US, are you an Arizona cannabis patient? How would a ban on concentrates affect you?