The Obama administration cleared some of the haze regarding potential federal intervention on August 29, when the U.S. Justice Department said states with legalization laws would be left alone, as long as steps were taken to keep pot out of the hands of children and stop it from crossing state lines.

The announcement deflated arguments by Arizona prohibitionists that the medical-pot program would result in criminal prosecution of state workers, though Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery continues to fight the 2010 law in the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Republican Montgomery, as expected, has taken a prohibitionist stance in the evolving battle over marijuana extracts, though other county prosecutors and various police agencies in Arizona have independently reached similar conclusions about the illegality of concentrates and certain pot-infused food items.

Problem is, their conclusions are based on a misinterpretation of the words "any . . . preparation," which should be clear enough.

Instead, the officials, possibly suffering withdrawal symptoms from busting fewer marijuana users than they'd like, have sided with the inaccurate old law, instead of the voter-approved new one.


The decades-old definition of "cannabis" under state law is, without question, unscientific and based in ignorance. State Capitol researchers helped New Times find that the Arizona statute dates back at least to 1960, meaning it even predates the 1964 discovery of THC.

"The use of cannabis to refer to the resin is confusing, as cannabis is also a common name for the whole plant, Cannabis sativa," says Jean Langenheim, professor emeritus of biology and research at the University of California-Santa Cruz. "What a confusing mess, especially if you don't understand the botany and how to separate the usage of the terms!"

"Hashish" also is a vague term, referring generally to the resin extracted from the Cannabis plant, but usually describing a sticky, clay-like, blond or brown substance made of compressed resin, like the kind seen in the 1978 movie Midnight Express. Langenheim's comprehensive 2003 book, Plant Resins, states that the words, "marijuana, hashish, and cannabis" all refer to use of the resin.

The flowers (or buds) of marijuana are where resin is found, suspended in the glands of tiny, mushroom-like stalks called trichomes. Smoking buds or hashish is just one way to ingest the resin.

But, for most of the 6,000-plus years that marijuana has been used by humankind, the plant typically was consumed as a food or drink made from its extracts. In India, for example, people typically consumed the resin in bhang, a milk drink made directly from buds.

Extracting the resin so it can be used independently of the plant material can be complicated, or very simple. Many "colorful stories" can be found in history regarding the extraction of cannabis resin, Langenheim says.

"For example, naked men or those clothed in leather were reported to have run through flowering cannabis fields in Nepal, then scrap[ed] off resin that collected on their bodies or their clothes," her book states. "In Persia and Afghanistan, plants were beaten on carpets or rolled in a carpet and danced upon; the carpets were then washed to free the resin glands."

If you believe Bill Montgomery, these would be considered illegal extractions of resin — with or without the protections of Arizona's medical-pot law.

"Extraction" is such a broad term that it could be applied to act of merely dropping buds on a table. When dry buds are knocked against a flat surface, some of the trichomes fall off. This powder, which can be collected in larger quantities using a sieve or screen, is known as kief. Pressing a lot of kief together makes something that looks like hashish and can be smoked or eaten. Midnight Express-type hashish, meanwhile, requires more processing to achieve a higher purity level and thus increased potency.

Making large quantities of extract might require a botanical-extraction machine, which can produce concentrates of 90 percent THC. (By comparison, high-potency buds might contain 20 percent or more THC.)

The most common extraction method probably is cannabutter, which is crushed marijuana and butter cooked together. The fat molecules in butter bond well to THC. Particles of plant matter usually are strained out, leaving only a potent concentrate that can be used to cook into any recipe that calls for butter.

Phoenix police say they consider even cannabutter an illegal extract not covered under the medical program.

However, it's hashish and hash oil that law officers are most concerned about because they can be consumed in their pure, potent forms by eating or smoking. Cops have long viewed hashish as a more dangerous drug than marijuana (in fact, it's the same drug), and as mentioned, the "resin extracted" from marijuana — whatever you call it — is incorrectly termed a "narcotic" under Arizona law.

Coconino County Attorney David Rozema says his understanding of the statute is that it means "hashish" where it says "cannabis."

Like many people, Rozema appears to struggle with the technical differences in this new world of marijuana and its byproducts, saying whether cannabutter is legal or illegal for medical users may depend on "whether it's butter mixed with MJ leaves or butter mixed with resin."

Given that butter mixed with marijuana is a way to extract resin, it's obvious that Rozema doesn't really know what he's talking about.

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