On Election Day in 2010 Arizona voters approved Prop 203 allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. The proposition also established a dispensary system under which patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana obtained from a dispensary every two weeks.
The law took effect in April 2011. However, before the dispensary-permit process began, Governor Jan Brewer filed a lawsuit seeking to clarify the federal government’s ability to interfere with the state’s medical cannabis program – particularly regarding the potential prosecution of state employees implementing the program.
While Brewer’s decision to file the suit came in the wake of threats of possible federal retaliation from former Arizona US Attorney Dennis Burke, many felt the Governor’s lawsuit was a thinly veiled means of delaying the voter-approved dispensary system. The dispensary-licensing program was suspended when the suit was filed in May 2011.
On Wednesday, however, Judge Susan Bolton dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the state couldn’t demonstrate that its workers were at risk of federal prosecution.
“Plaintiffs do not challenge any specific action taken by any defendant … Plaintiffs also do not describe any actions by state employees that were in violation of (the Controlled Substances Act) or any threat of prosecution for any reason by federal officials,” Bolton wrote.
A spokesman for Brewer responded to the decision by saying, “What this court has essentially said is that it won’t hear the state’s lawsuit unless and until a state employee faces federal prosecution for enforcing Proposition 203.”
While the decision - which came in response to a motion to dismiss from the American Civil Liberties Union – allows for state health officials to begin licensing dispensaries, it remains to be seen whether the program is immediately implemented.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Brewer has no plan to join the governors of four other states (Washington, Rhode Island, Vermont and Colorado) who have petitioned the Obama Administration to reschedule cannabis.
There are now almost 18,000 medical cannabis patients in Arizona. Most have requested permission to grow their own medicine.