The legal wrangling over Arizona's medical-marijuana law has been heating up, so I thought I would take a moment to scan the horizon for significant happenings, and to catch us all up to speed.
Two legal maneuvers in recent weeks have poured a bit more smoke into the legal air—or maybe they're smokescreens. Time will tell.
In the first week of August, the Department of Justice—a defendant in Gov. Jan Brewer's lawsuit that seeks to block the state's voter-approved medical-marijuana program—filed a brief that dismisses Brewer's claim that state employees and others implementing the law would be at risk of legal prosecution. The DOJ filing claims Brewer's lawsuit has no merit, because the state didn't show a credible threat of prosecution.
The feds asked that the case be dismissed.
In a response to the Department of Justice filing, the governor reiterated her fears of prosecution, based on what she called "the federal government's stated intention to vigorously prosecute even those persons who are operating in compliance with state law, and the raids undertaken in other states."
Regardless of the legalese and puffed-up posturing in the governor's response—including a reference to a "Damoclean sword hanging over the heads of the plaintiffs"—the case will likely be dismissed, just as similar lawsuits in other medical-marijuana-allowing states were, said Joe Yuhas, director of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, a defendant in Brewer's lawsuit.
"At the end of the day, the courts ruled the way we believe the courts will rule in Arizona," Yuhas said.
He seems to think things will move quickly from here on out. He hopes—but stops shy of saying he expects—that the state Department of Health Services will have a new medical-marijuana-system-implementation schedule in place by this fall, and the program up and running by January.
Fast-forward a week from the above wrangling, and you'll find that the state had poised a Damoclean sword of its own over the heads of four Phoenix clubs that help connect cannabis patients.
Claiming the state wanted a "softer approach" than immediate arrests, state Attorney General Tom Horne asked a Maricopa County Superior Court judge to stop the 2811 Club, the Arizona Compassion Association, Yoki A Ma' Club, the Arizona Compassion Club and club owner Michael R. Miller from providing spaces where registered patients can exchange marijuana.
The clubs are illegal, Horne claims, because the law does not allow anyone other than registered dispensaries or caregivers to distribute cannabis.
But the clubs' owners maintain that they aren't distributing anything; they are only providing a space for transactions between patients. For example, at the 2811 Club, all cannabis exchanges are handled by members of the Arizona Compassion Association, who donate their excess marijuana to the club. Patients get access to the space for an application fee of $25, plus $75 per visit.
Although Horne has claimed that the law doesn't allow for the clubs' existence, the law doesn't say they can't exist. Laws generally don't tell people what they can do; they tell people what they can't do. Unless the state can prove the clubs are distributing marijuana—which they don't seem to be—then I see this case eventually going away, too.
But I am not a judge.
Get thy sword off my neck, sayeth I to Mr. Horne.
So here's where I beg.
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