Smoked Out

AG Mark Brnovich pulls a quick about-face after marijuana opinion surfaces

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office last week called for the Arizona Supreme Court to uphold the Court of Appeals ruling that rendered marijuana concentrates illegal earlier this year.

But earlier this week, Brnovich's office redacted the argument, fearing "unintended consequences for patients," according to a Capitol Media Services article.

Court documents showed that Brnovich agreed the voter-approved 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act legalized only dry flower, and that any extractions from the plant remain illegal.

This argument reflects the reasoning Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk used to incarcerate card-holder Rodney Jones in 2016, and the Court of Appels used to uphold the decision in June.

Brnovich hasn't taken much of a stance against cannabis in the past, so the only thing more surprising than his definitive stance is his sudden reconsideration.

According to his spokesperson, the department that drafted the argument hadn't run it by Brnovich before whisking it off to the Supreme Court, despite the documents brandishing his name.

The Court of Appeals decision seemed insane back in June, when they determined Jones deserved prison for possession of little bit of "hash," received at a dispensary, and the jar in which he kept it, which apparently qualifies as "drug paraphernalia."

As a matter of case law, the decision retroactively made a sizeable portion of the Arizona cannabis industry illegal. Patients often consume concentrates through vapes or other methods of inhaling, but also through edibles or tinctures.

The ruling chilled patient and dispensary attitudes around concentrates, but quickly blew over after it became apparent enforcement agencies would not expend the resources to crackdown on the state's roughly 130 dispensaries and 180,000 patients.

Industry leaders were confident the matter would be resolved following a Supreme Court hearing.

The situation stems from an ignorant reading for the AMMA, which Court of Appeals judges say only legalized "marijuana," or flower, and not "cannabis," or concentrates.

Anyone with a working brain cell knows the words are synonymous, and that's the way it's been since 2012 (well, much longer actually), when dispensaries first started opening.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has always considered concentrates part of the AMMA, as is evident in their distribution of best-practice guidelines for extracts and edibles, according to former ADHS Director Will Humble, who headed the department in 2012.

Though Brnovich's office was quick to cover up their blemish on the eve of the election, only the hard work of a diligent journalist prevented this argument from consideration by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The only thing more careless than submitting an argument based on willful misinterpretation of the law is unwittingly providing that argument to a court that may hold patients' lives in their palms. But the two go hand-in-hand.

One Court of Appeals judge even went so far as to claim that voters didn't intend to legalize concentrates when they approved the AMMA in 2010.

Polls indicate a significant majority of voters approve of medical cannabis, including more than half of Republicans, according to Arizona Dispensaries Association President Mark Steinmetz.

That makes the claim that Arizona residents didn't understand the law they were voting for nothing more than a political device to perpetuate cannabis animus.

Brnovich's spokesperson said it's the attorney general's "responsibility to uphold the will of Arizona voters," and from now on he'd adopt a "neutral" stance on the issue of concentrates.

Well, Mark, it's pretty clear what the voters want, and it's not neutrality.

Brnovich is up for reelection against Democratic candidate January Contreras.

Though Contreras hasn't come around to adult-use recreational cannabis legalization, it's a pretty safe bet that she knows there's no difference between "marijuana" and "cannabis," or that concentrates fall pretty safely under the category "mixture or preparation" of cannabis.

Brnovich has left patients to decide if, when it comes to their choice in medication, they want an attorney general who, at best, takes a "neutral" stance and at worst, jeopardizes their freedom.

There are about 180,000 Arizona residents who deserve better.