Nearly 14 months after Arizona voters approved Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is finally directing the Arizona Department of Health Services to move forward to fully implementation the law.
A brief history: In November 2010 Arizona voters narrowly decided in favor of ballot measure 203, which removes state-level criminal penalties for the use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by patients who have written certification from their physician indicating that cannabis may alleviate their condition. The measure also mandated the state to adopt rules to govern the establishment of up to 125 nonprofit cannabis dispensaries, which would be legally authorized to produce and dispense marijuana to authorized patients on a not-for-profit basis.
In April 2011, the Arizona Department of Health Services formalized rules regarding an online ID-card registration for qualified patients. (More than 16,000 Arizona residents are now registered with the state to legally possess cannabis.) The Department also announced at that time that it would begin accepting applications from would-be dispensary operators by June 1. That deadline came and went, however, when Gov. Brewer — who had opposed the passage of AMMA — filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that her administration’s compliance with the law’s state-licensing provisions would put state employees in danger of federal prosecution. In response to Gov. Brewer’s suit, attorneys representing the American Civil Liberties Union and the NORML Legal Committee co-authored a Motion to Dismiss the case.
Their efforts were successful. Earlier this month, a federal judge rejected Gov. Brewer’ challenge, asserting “[T]he Complaint does not detail any history of prosecution of state employees for participation in state medical marijuana licensing schemes. [and] fails to establish that Plaintiffs are subject to a genuine threat of imminent prosecution and consequently, the Complaint does not meet the constitutional requirements for ripeness. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ claims are unripe and must be dismissed.”
So, has Gov. Brewer finally gotten the message? Apparently so.
Today, Brewer’s office stated for the record that they would no longer challenge the state’s nascent law in court and instead will cooperate to see that the voters’ demands are once and for all fully enacted. Said the Governor in a press release:
“The State of Arizona will not re-file in federal court a lawsuit that sought clarification that State employees would not be subject to federal criminal prosecution simply for implementing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Instead, I have directed the Arizona Department of Health Services to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications, and issuing licenses for those facilities once a (separate) pending legal challenge to the Department’s medical marijuana rules is resolved. … With our request for clarification rebuffed on procedural grounds by the federal court, I believe the best course of action now is to complete the implementation of Proposition 203 in accordance with the law.”
According to the website of the Arizona Department of Health, the department hopes to begin accepting applications for dispensaries this summer. To date, only three states — Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico — have granted licenses to allow for the state-sanctioned production and distribution of cannabis. (Several other states, including Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont, have enacted licensing legislation but to date have refused to issue any actual dispensary licenses.)
Under Arizona law, qualified patients may cultivate their own cannabis at home if they do not reside within 25 miles of an operating cannabis dispensary.
Additional information regarding Arizona’s medicinal cannabis program is available from the Arizona Department of Health Services here.