County Will Let Marijuana Offenders Off the Hook If They Get a Card After Arrest

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel Via social media
Anyone who gets arrested in Maricopa County on a simple marijuana possession charge can apply for a medical marijuana card to avoid prosecution, according to new rules by County Attorney Allister Adel.

"In cases where the defendant was not in compliance with the AMMA [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] at the time of the crime solely because the person did not have a valid medical marijuana card, MCAO will dismiss a charge involving any crime covered by the AMMA if the defendant obtains a medical marijuana card and provides proof by the IPTC," the new rules say.

The IPTC is the initial pretrial conference hearing, which could be scheduled up to 45 days after an arrest — which leaves plenty of time to get a medical card.

As long as the offense is within the parameters of the 2010 law, the offender should be okay. That law allows patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, along with any paraphernalia they have used to store or ingest their cannabis. It also allows people who live 25 miles from an operating dispensary to grow up to 12 plants in their home.

In some cases, the prosecutor's boss may have to approve first: District county attorneys "should discuss whether dismissal is appropriate with their supervisor when a defendant in this situation obtains a medical marijuana card after the IPTC," the rules say.

Adel's change is just part of a slate of new policies she announced Monday that are more in tune with issues of criminal justice reform and the better treatment of marginalized communities. They meet Adel's stated goal of focusing on individuals' needs and taking a "treatment-first" approach to drug cases.

The policies represent a sea change from the previous way of doing things in the county under former County Attorney Bill Montgomery, now a state Supreme Court justice. Under the reign of Montgomery and his predecessors, low-level, first- and second-time marijuana offenders were sent to a drug treatment program called TASC, where they would shell out thousands of dollars and submit to frequent urine tests. The county attorney's office would get a cut of the profits.

It is almost as if Adel — a Republican in an increasingly purple state, currently battling an experienced Democratic prosecutor in Julie Gunnigle — might be feeling a little nervous about her chances in November. Also notable: It is looking likely that voters will legalize recreational marijuana use and possession in November, making Adel's loosening of the rules three months ahead of Election Day considerably less risky politically.

The effective date of the new policies was Friday.

Any amount of marijuana without a state medical marijuana card is still a felony under state law.

Here's the county attorney's link to all of the changes.

If you got arrested and are reading this, the reality is that the card's still going to set you back about $250 to $300. But the card protects against prosecution for a full two years. Check out Phoenix New Times' April 17 article on how just about anyone can obtain a card.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.