Bar Fight

A case in Maricopa County Superior Court is another distraction in the medical marijuana saga

Two lawyers walk into a bar.

Then the lawsuits start flying, and nobody gets to have any fun drinking, because the lawyers are throwing briefs around like bar stools and screaming at the judge to throw that motherfucker out of here, because he's drunk and he's spilling drinks all over everyone. So the drunk motherfucker screams at the judge a little, defending his actions, and the judge eventually hears enough and orders a bouncer to throw someone into the street.

Everyone wakes up the next day with a hangover, trying to remember exactly what happened and wondering if anyone really won the fight. The cannabis bar brawl continued May 22, when a group of nonprofit dispensary hopefuls from across the state, mostly the Phoenix valley, hurled a bar stool at the state Department of Health Services.

The Maricopa County Superior Court case stems from one brought last June by the White Mountain Health Center, a planned dispensary in the west valley. That dispensary was blocked from even applying to open because Maricopa County refused to issue a required zoning decision, even though White Mountain appeared to meet all of the applicable zoning requirements. Interestingly, there were no local requirements, meaning the only hurdle was a state requirement that the dispensary not be near a school. Maricopa County didn't reject the application; it simply ignored it. A judge sided with White Mountain, but the case is still pending an appeal because Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is a hater.

Meanwhile, other dispensary operators waited because they didn't want to make huge investments toward opening if they would never be allowed to. They hoped the precedent-setting White Mountain case would be resolved in time for them to meet a June 7 deadline to request a state inspection. Now it's clear they won't make it. So they sued.

These latest lawsuiters claim they were "chilled" by the unresolved legal issues, meaning that the threat of legal sanction prevented them from exercising their right to open dispensaries. It wasn't their fault that the legality of dispensaries still hasn't been adjudicated, they said. They asked the court to nullify the time line, then set a more reasonable deadline for completing the application process.

Winning in court is important to the dispensaries, because if you ask the state for a dispensary certificate and don't open by the deadline, your officers and board members are banned from participating in the Arizona medical cannabis program. Ever. Period. Wtf?

This latest lawsuit brings the number of lawsuits over the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act to way, way too many. It would take both of my hands and part of my feet to count them all. You can look them up here (

So the lawyers are out on the town again, slamming drinks and getting all puffed up and snarling. They'll probably have a couple of beers and a shot or two at the first bar, bracing for the fight and yelling insults at the other lawyers. When the bartender cuts them off, they'll take the fight to another bar, where they'll keep drinking and start pushing and shoving. Eventually, punches will start flying and one side or the other will get their ass kicked and go home.

The winners will stand in the street, dripping blood on their torn shirts, shrieking at random strangers in the wee hours. "That's right, bitches! You should see the other guy! I fucked him up good!"

Legal proceedings can get ugly. Parsing broad issues into tiny little blacks and whites is messy sometimes, but I suppose I wouldn't have it any other way. Yes, sometimes drunks get carried away, but they're fun to watch when they aren't tossing bar stools. As a wise lawyer once told me, our civil courts are about incremental change that gradually builds into bigger change. It might seem like a lot of effort for such tiny gains, but those little gains can eventually add up to big things indeed. It's not all about giant leaps forward.

It's about the baby steps.

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