Governor Jan Brewer followed through today on her threat to attack Arizona's voter-approved medical marijuana law, but advocates of democracy are fighting back.
Numerous defendants have signed on to oppose Brewer's suit, including the backers of Prop 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association. The American Civil Liberties Union will cover the legal defense for the AzMMA, according to a news release just sent out (see below).
The lawsuit (also below) sets out the half-baked theory that Arizona needs the feds to tell it what do about its own law. Several letters by U.S. Attorneys from Arizona and other states are attached as exhibits.
Brewer's cover story has been that the letters prove her lawsuit is necessary to protect state workers from getting busted for rolling out Arizona's medical weed program. The reality seems to be that the conservative governor and her pals are using the feds' threat to move against a law they've hated from the beginning.
The suit seeks a ruling on whether Arizona's law provides a "safe harbor from federal prosecution, or in the alternative, whether the AMMA is preempted by the Controlled Substances Act ("CSA") and federal law."
But Brewer and her enforcer in this action, state Attorney General Tom Horne, already know the answers are "no" and "no." And they knew those answers before the U.S. Attorneys started mailing their threat letters.
The fact is, voters knew before they approved the law that marijuana is against federal law, and would remain against federal law after the passage of Prop 203. This law breaks new ground and symbolizes, as much as anything, the modern struggle between states' rights and federal authorities.
If Brewer wasn't so biased against medical marijuana, she'd let the feds make their first move, then criticize them for thwarting the will of the people. Instead, she's thwarting the will of the people.
Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the AzMMA, says that by lending the group's name to the list of defendants, the pro-medical-pot association will be better able to monitor every step of this process.
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"We're confident that at the end of the day, the suit will be dismissed," Yuhas says. He doesn't mean today, of course -- he expects the fight to continue for at least a few weeks.
In the meantime, it's clear this means a delay for the fledgling marijuana dispensary industry, Yuhas adds.
The Arizona Department of Health Services was set to start taking dispensary applications this coming Wednesday, but Brewer indicated she won't allow the state to authorize any dispensaries until a federal court rules on the legality of the law. The DHS Web site now states that no dispensary applications will be accepted in June.
Qualified patients, however, may still obtain registration cards that allow them possess up to two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana legally, no matter where they get it. Patients can also legally grow up to 12 plants in their homes until a dispensary opens up within 25 miles.
Most patients don't have the patience to play the role of farmer, though, so the dispensaries remain key to the success of Arizona's program -- just the way voters wanted it.
Heres' the ACLU's complete news release:
PHOENIX - The American Civil Liberties Union today agreed to represent the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association (AzMMA) in order to defend the constitutionality of Arizona's medical marijuana law.
The move comes on the heels of an announcement today by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that she has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, a number of potential dispensary applicants under the law and others seeking a ruling from a federal court that the Arizona law is preempted by federal law and should be struck down. A non-profit, membership-based professional association that seeks to advance the interests of Arizona's medical marijuana profession and the patients it serves, AzMMA is a named defendant in Brewer's lawsuit.
"By taking the highly unusual step of challenging her own state's law, Gov. Brewer is undermining the will of Arizona voters and unconscionably seeking to prevent thousands of sick Arizonans from being able to access important medicine," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. "People should have the freedom to choose the medicine their doctors believe is most effective for them."
A majority of Arizona voters in 2010 passed Proposition 203, which allows terminally and seriously ill patients in Arizona who find relief from marijuana to use it with a doctor's recommendation. The law allows marijuana to be distributed by tightly regulated clinics to patients with state-issued registry cards, and creates penalties for false statements and fraudulent cards.
Brewer's lawsuit charges that Arizona's medical marijuana law is in conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act and that the court should declare the law preempted under federal law. The lawsuit claims that Arizona officials fear federal prosecution for implementing the law, even though U.S. Attorney Burke has stated publicly in recent days that the federal government has "no intention of targeting or going after people who are implementing or who are in compliance with state law."
Three appellate decisions in California have previously rejected claims that California's medical marijuana law is preempted by federal law. And earlier this month the Oregon Supreme Court backed away from its previous ruling that a part of Oregon's medical marijuana law is preempted by federal law.
"Contrary to the governor's claims, the federal Controlled Substances Act includes an explicit provision permitting states to adopt their own drug laws," said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project.
Any delay in the implementation of Proposition 203 could pave the way for the unregulated cultivation and distribution of marijuana. A provision of the law allows patients to grow their own medical marijuana if they reside more than 25 miles from the nearest licensed and regulated dispensary. If dispensaries are not allowed to be established on schedule, thousands of people in Arizona who have received registry cards from the state could be able to grow their own marijuana. Patients would also be able to become registered merely by having a doctor's recommendation and would no longer have to obtain a registry card from the state.
"Halting a regulated dispensary program would simply provide more business to drug cartels and put patients at risk by forcing them back into the black market," said Joe Yuhas, a representative of AzMMA. "Failing to implement Proposition 203 would waste taxpayers' money, thwart the will of the voters and leave a reasonable and regulated medical marijuana program vulnerable to being exploited."
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