Extract Excitement

Navajo County judge declares cannabis extract illegal

Once again, the Arizona courts have it out for medical marijuana patients. In a curious case of cannabis concentrates, Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson has declared extracts illegal.

The basis for his stance concerns the definition of cannabis in Arizona state law. The state's statutes define cannabis as "the resin extracted from" marijuana plants, and pot laws written more than 50 years ago classify cannabis as a narcotic.

The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, however, has no definition for cannabis, raising inconsistencies about what patients can buy from dispensaries. It does have language about mixtures and other preparations, but Nielson decided this only applies to the dried flower.

So according to Nielson, most of the state's dispensaries are now narcotics dealers.

I say most because a similar case arose in Maricopa County in 2013 when (you guessed it!) County Attorney Bill Montgomery charged a patient with narcotic possession under state law.

The policy worried the family of a boy who used medical marijuana to treat his epilepsy, and in March 2014, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper decided the AMMA "authorizes qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil, prepared from the marijuana plant."

So case closed right? Not quite. that ruling only applies to those in Maricopa County, leaving the rest of the state wide open to similar shenanigans.

The Navajo County case centers around 26-year-old medical marijuana card-holder Jake Ruether, who was pulled over in March near Holbrook. State troopers found oil, vape cartridges and 12 packages of wax, individually wrapped.

The wax's conspicuous packaging led prosecutors to profess to a grand jury that Ruether intended to sell the product, and that was enough to convince them to charge him.

Ruether's lawyer, Jon Saline, petitioned the judge to take the case back to the grand jury on account of the confusion surrounding what constitutes "cannabis" under the AMMA, but Nielson wouldn't have it and rejected the motion.

But don't start ditching your shatter yet. Saline intends to appeal the decision, sending the case to the Arizona Court of Appeals, which has been historically friendly to the marijuana industry as Ray Stern of the Phoenix New Times reports.

If the rest of the state decides to follow Nielson's example—an unlikely scenario—Arizona's medical marijuana industry would dry up, leaving nothing but bud and edibles for sale. Thousands of patients who rely on alternative consumption measures would be left out in cold with little option but to return to the lame (and perhaps more harmful) "traditional" medications.

Stern takes it a step further, hypothesizing that dispensaries would go out of business, leaving more and more patients to grow their own plants in "total pandemonium" of the state's medical marijuana industry.

Though that realization is some ways off, the power still resides in the hands of local law enforcement. Some county attorneys, like Pima County's Barbara LaWall, who's notorious for prosecuting low-level drug offenses, may take the charge more readily than others.

But until the courts sort this out, medical marijuana patients in Arizona will still be treated as second-class citizens because a bunch of old fogies don't know the definition of "cannabis."