Is the new Arizona U.S. Attorney, John Leonardo, going to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries as soon as they open?
That's what Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk hears, according to a letter signed by 13 county attorneys that Polk sent to Governor Jan Brewer. In the letter, Polk and the other prosecutors urge the governor to halt all licensing of marijuana "for any purpose," meaning they want to end the whole concept of medical marijuana in Arizona.
Polk notes ominously in her letter (see link below) that Leonardo, an Obama appointee and former Pima County judge who just started his job this month, is preparing serious action against the dispensaries that are likely to open as soon as early September.
"I have been told that the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, John Leonardo, fully intends to prevent any dispensaries from operating in Arizona by seizing each and every one as it opens and commits violations of the CSA," Polk wrote.
We asked Polk today who told her that. She replied that Tony Coulson, a retired Drug Enforcement Agent, told her.
But Coulson tells New Times that Leonardo never told him anything like that.
Coulson says he did talk to Leonardo about the medical-marijuana program -- but Leonardo "never said what he was going to do one way or another."
He does, however, believe that the feds will shut down Arizona program -- but that sort of wishful thinking is no surprise, coming from an ex-DEA agent. Time will tell if Leonardo or anyone else in the federal government makes a move on Arizona's voter-approved program, now that it's about to enter the dispensary phase.
We e-mailed Polk late this afternoon to find out her reaction to Coulson's comment, and we'll let you know what she says in reply. (UPDATE: Polk says, "I wrote in my letter to the Governor what Tony told me." At best, this means these folks are simply awful at the old game of "telephone." How in the world did a non-response by Leonardo become "fully intends to prevent any dispensaries from operating in Arizona by seizing each and every one as it opens..." Sheesh.)
The Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office put out this statement in regards to Polk's letter:
Ms. Polk's representation of the U.S. Attorney's position on medical marijuana dispensaries is inaccurate. The position of the U.S. Attorney in Arizona has not changed since then-Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Scheel informed Governor Brewer that the U.S. Attorney's Office will follow Department of Justice policy on medical marijuana. Specifically, the Department of Justice is focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers, not seriously ill individuals and their caregivers who are in compliance with applicable state medical marijuana statutes. The Department of Justice has advised U.S. Attorneys that prosecution of significant drug traffickers, including marijuana, remains a core priority of the Department, but that focusing enforcement efforts on individuals with cancer and other serious illnesses, who use marijuana as part of a recommended treatment regimen, likely is not an efficient use of federal resources.
That last part essentially parrots what James Cole, U.S. assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorneys in July of 2011. Since then, President Obama has conducted a crackdown on dispensaries in California, but not in Colorado, which has a program of state-authorized medical-pot stores more similar to the one being set up in Arizona.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The Republican politician is a die-hard marijuana prohibitionist who actively tried to defeat Prop 203 in 2010, and who teamed up with Bill Montgomery early in 2011 to explore a possible way to thwart the wishes of voters by having the law declared to be in violation of the Arizona constitution.
That being said, we still have a soft spot in our jaded heart for Polk, who took a courageous position against the abuses of power being committed by former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
If you're a right-winger and were offended by Polk's stance against Sheriff Arpaio and Thomas, maybe her feelings about medical marijuana will put her back in your good graces.
Brewer, meanwhile, told Polk and the county attorneys that she has concerns about the law, but that voters have spoken. It took a couple of judges to remind her of that fact, but she's clearly got it now.