Governor Brewer Can't Stop Medical Marijuana Under State Law; Qualified Patients Can Legally Possess Drug Without State Approval
Governor Jan Brewer hopes to derail Arizona's voter-approved medical marijuana law, but qualified patients can legally possess weed with or without state approval.
The effort by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne to steamroll voters in their attempted quashing of the new medical marijuana law won't work -- not entirely, anyway.
Qualified patients can possess up to two-and-a-half ounces of weed legally in Arizona since the passage of Prop 203 -- with or without state approval.
That's why Brewer and Horne, two Republicans who are putting politics above the wishes of the electorate, haven't mentioned any plans to stop the state from handing out medical marijuana registration cards.
The smartly written Arizona Medical Marijuana Act anticipated an anti-democratic reaction like the one we saw Tuesday and included a powerful work-around.
Arizona law requires that:
If the department fails to issue a registry identification card within forty-five days of the submission of a valid application or renewal, the registry identification card shall be deemed issued, and a copy of the registry identification card application or renewal is deemed a valid registry identification card.
* update* Other sources says subsection C may be more applicable:
C. If at any time after the one hundred forty days following the effective date of this chapter the department is not accepting applications or has not promulgated rules allowing qualifying patients to submit applications, a notarized statement by a qualifying patient containing the information required in an application pursuant to section 36-2804.02, subsection A, paragraph 3, together with a written certification issued by a physician within the ninety days immediately preceding the notarized statement, shall be deemed a valid registry identification card.
*back to orig*
Matt Benson, Brewer's spokesman, confirmed that the governor understands this self-enacting part of the law. Though Brewer and Horne have indicated they'll likely direct the Arizona Department of Health Services to put the dispensary program on hold until a federal court rules on the legality of Arizona's program, DHS "will continue issuing those cards as they have been until further notice."
Failing to do that, Benson acknowledges, would create a bit of chaos. Anyone with a copy of a registration card application could legally possess weed, but the state would have no record of them.
Without going into all the hypotheticals of the situation, suffice to say that Arizonans who want to qualify to legally possess marijuana under state law can do so. They can keep appying for and receiving state-approved cards, or, if the state stops taking registration card applications, they can just keep their unapproved applications handy. Prosecutors will still be prohibited from convicting legal medical marijuana patients.
Or small-time growers. Qualified patients could still raise up to
five 12 plants each at home, as long as no dispensary opens within 25 miles. Thanks to the way Brewer and Horne are sticking it to voters, no dispensary will open anytime soon.
Now, it's true -- as Benson pointed out to us -- that the state law doesn't protect anyone from federal law. Growing or possessing pot will still be illegal in the eyes of federal law enforcement officials. But for small-time marijuana suspects, that's shouldn't be much of a concern. With relatively few resources, the feds can only target big-time criminals.
Just to bring up a side issue here, is anyone else disturbed at how a scarcity of dispensaries combined with thousands of qualified patients equals more black-market weed sales? By failing to defend the will of the people, Brewer and Horne will boost illegal drug sales. What concerns us most is how the politicians might use this fact to later criticize the program. My gosh, they'll say, look how Prop 203 ended up fueling the cartels! What a bad law! But, of course, they'll be the ones responsible if that happens.
As of Tuesday, DHS has approved a total of 3,696 applications since April 14 for medical marijuana. Laura Oxley, DHS spokeswoman, tells us that applications don't appear to have tapered off since Brewer and Horne's announcement.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.