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Arizona courts continue to decide in favor of medical marijuana’s fate

Arizona courts have something to say about medical marijuana this week, and it's all good.

In Navajo County, the same judge that ruled cannabis extracts illegal in October changed his tune and decided they are not. And at the state level, the Court of Appeals determined visiting medical marijuana patients can use marijuana in Arizona.

The Navajo County case took to task the definition of marijuana in the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. It began with the arrest of 26-year-old Jake Ruether, who was pulled over and found to have bud, oil, dabs and cartridges in his car.

The individual packaging of the wax caused prosecutors to believe Ruether intended to resell and prosecuted him under Arizona drug laws written more than 50 years ago, which define cannabis as "the resin extracted from" marijuana plants and a narcotic.

The AMMA doesn't define cannabis, only marijuana, but includes "mixtures and other preparations" in that definition. Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson decided that definition only applied to preparations from the dried flower itself.

The case put Arizona dispensaries in an awkward position as much of their products are concentrate-based, such as edibles, vape pen cartridges and shatter.

Ruether's lawyer, Jon Saline, petitioned the ruling, which was once again heard by Nielson. The silver bullet to switching his stance seems to have come from our friend Dr. Hope Jones, chief scientific officer of C4 Laboratories, a cannabis testing facility.

Jones wrote an affidavit declaring that it isn't at all economical for marijuana producers to extract cannabinoids from anything but the flower, meaning such extracts fall under the AMMA definition of "mixtures and other preparations."

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that as long as visiting medical marijuana patients from other states have been properly registered in their home state, they can use marijuana in Arizona. However, that does not mean they can buy marijuana from dispensaries.

The case comes from a La Paz County court decision that attempted to convict a California medical marijuana patient for possession in Arizona. Prosecutors argued that California's standard for qualifying patients wasn't equal to Arizona's standards.

But the Court of Appeals decided the AMMA provided the same protection to out-of-state patients as to Arizona patients.

How exactly those patients are supposed to come by the marijuana they are now allowed to use is unclear, as it is illegal to transport marijuana across state lines. But barring visiting patients from dispensaries is not a state policy unique to Arizona.

A 2015 Court of Appeals case decided that Arizona patients cannot legally sell marijuana to other patients, but OK'd sharing with other cardholders. Under this new decision, that legal sharing is likely extended to visiting patients as well based on the court's ruling.

Finally, the state legislator is moving forward on two bills concerning the medical marijuana industry.

HB2064, which would make it illegal for dispensaries to sell products in packaging attractive to minors, and SB1420, which puts the Department of Agriculture in charge of regulating medical marijuana testing, have both advanced.

The house bill is one of the many attempts at stifling the industry introduced by Rep. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, cleared the House with a 52-2 vote March 12 after a motion to revote in late February.

SB 1420, introduced by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, passed the Senate's Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee with a 7-1 vote on March 12.

Correction: This article originally stated that Jake Ruether had been convicted of other crimes in relation to this case. He has not.


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