Joe Arpaio Supports Medical Marijuana, or At Least He Did at One Time

Sheriff Joe Arpaio supports medicinal use of the good ganja? Well, at least that's what the former DEA agent did during this clip from the 2007 documentary American Drug War: The Last White Hope. In it, Arpaio was asked his opinion on medical marijuana, as he stands in Tent City, surrounded by prisoners in bumble-bee stripes.

This is what "the shurf" had to say, starting around 1:31 in:

"Well that's a tough one," he told his interviewer. "Tough one. If it's issued by tight controls by a physician, I don't know if I oppose that. Someone's dying of cancer, and that's going to help that person, I don't know if I'm strictly opposed to medical marijuana, [which] you're probably talkin' about. It can help the dying patient, but it has to be dispensed by a doctor, just like codeine and other drugs. Doctors dispense other drugs."

That's essentially the sort of system Prop 203 sets up: with licensed dispensaries that folks can only gain access to after they have a recommendation from an M.D., and secure a caregiver registry card from the Arizona Department of Health Services. (For a more detailed description of the law, read my colleague Niki D'Andrea's recent analysis of Prop 203.)

The above video shines an ironic light on Arpaio's current anti-203 stance. In the weeks before election day, I attended a press conference by the anti-Prop 203 "Keep AZ Drug Free" folks, where state Senator Russell Pearce (now state Senate President-elect) and Arpaio took to the podium to preach the evils of Mary Jane, even when a doctor thinks its the best thing for a patient.

Pearce and Arpaio, blasting Prop 203 before the election
Pearce and Arpaio, blasting Prop 203 before the election

One of Arpaio's main objections was that the use of marijuana is proscribed by federal law. When I reminded him that racial profiling was also against federal law and that he was breaking it nonetheless with his anti-immigration sweeps, he flipped out and started spurting nonsequiturs, pointing a finger at me, and saying, "You broke the law!" 

Huh? I chalked it up to Joe not taking his Alzheimer's medicine that day.

Is Joe a hypocrite? Of course he is, he's a politician, and twists with the wind. Heck, the sheriff even came late to the nativist bandwagon, only signing up with the anti-illegal immigrant crew after he took a lot of flack over the 2005 Patrick Haab incident. That's the one where Haab took several illegal immigrants hostage at an Arizona rest stop.

Arpaio's deputies arrested Haab, and Arpaio repeatedly stated that Haab was in the wrong. But the nativists hailed Haab as a hero, and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas declined to prosecute him. Arpaio felt the wrath of the wingnuts, and soon was singing the anti-illegal tune.

Regarding federal immigration laws, Arpaio has always made the argument that local cops have the inherent authority to enforce federal statutes. Following Prop 203's passage, he's been floating the idea of some sort of pot posse, which might police the medical marijuana dispensaries that will open as a result of 203.

"Isn't interesting," Arpaio told Fox 10 News recently, "that on illegal immigration everybody says it's a federal issue. Now we got marijuana, which is a federal issue and a violation of the law, yet now they want to dispense this kind of drug for alleged medical reasons."

Yeah, "alleged" medical reasons such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, and other conditions causing severe and chronic pain.

Will Arpaio begin some sort of crackdown on dispensaries of medical marijuana or the doctors recommending medical marijuana for their patients, using federal law as a pretext? 

I doubt it. Arpaio's "anti-illegals" stance is wildly popular in Arizona, whereas Prop 203 just gained the approval of the statewide electorate, albeit by a razor-thin margin.

Arpaio could risk alienating some of his die-hard supporters as he's looking toward another run for re-election in 2012, if he were to start raiding state-approved dispensaries, for instance. After all, some of those Sun City alter kockers may need the weed for their own debilitating ailments.

And considering the fact that Arpaio's been taking hits right and left, from the county, and from multiple federal and state investigations of his office, if Joe escapes indictment, he'll need every vote he can get in 2012. Even from the blue-haired ganja tokers.

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