The Arizona Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 19 in the case of Rodney Jones, a registered medical marijuana patient who was convicted of possession of hashish. The court in Jones’ original trial found that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), passed by voters in 2010, does not protect cannabis concentrates including hash or hash oil. Jones was convicted and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in a 2-1 decision in June of last year.
In the majority opinion, Judge Jon W. Thompson ruled that since hashish is illegal under criminal law and the AMMA does not specifically legalize cannabis extracts, Jones’ conviction should stand.
“AMMA is silent as to hashish,” Thompson wrote. “Prior understanding of the pertinent words strongly indicates that AMMA in no way immunizes the possession or use of hashish. That AMMA immunizes medical use of a mixture or preparation of the marijuana plant does not immunize hashish.”
Jones has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union in his appeal, which argues that the intent and language of AMMA allow for marijuana in multiple forms. Jared Keenan, an attorney with the ACLU, noted that cannabis concentrates are sold openly in Arizona medical marijuana dispensaries.
“When you go into a store licensed by the state, you have no notice that it’s illegal,” said Keenan. “In fact, you have every notice that it’s perfectly legal.”
Keenan also said that some medical marijuana patients do not have an alternative to cannabis concentrates, “specifically young children who suffer from awful seizure disorders who can only get relief from CBD oils and THC oils.”
Second MMJ Patient Awaiting Sentencing
Jones’ appeal is being watched closely by Adam Wanko, who is awaiting sentencing for a conviction of possession of the cannabis concentrate wax. While battling cancer in 2017, Wanko’s oncologist suggested he try cannabis to stem the serious weight loss he was experiencing. Wanko obtained a medical marijuana card and used it to legally purchase wax at a dispensary. When the wax was discovered during a traffic stop, he was arrested and ultimately convicted of possession of an illegal drug.
“If anyone could tell me how I could do things differently, from the time my oncologist told me to explore marijuana, to the time I got arrested, I’m all ears,” Wanko said.
Both Jones and Wanko were arrested in Yavapai County and prosecuted by county attorney Sheila Polk, who believes that AMMA only applies to marijuana in plant form. But no other county in the state has brought similar charges and Attorney General Mark Brnovich has refused to defend Jones’ conviction on appeal. Instead, it will be up to Polk alone to convince the Supreme Court to uphold his conviction. But a decision in the case could come after Wanko is sent to prison.
“I’m being prosecuted right now for something that I wasn’t even aware that I was breaking the law, and actually I don’t think I was breaking the law,” Wanko said. “I think it’s a misinterpreted law right now.”
A legislative solution to the question of the legality of cannabis concentrates is being sought by Republican state Rep. Tony Rivero, whose House Bill 2149 would amend the criminal code to protect registered medical marijuana patients from prosecution on charges of possession of cannabis in any form.