Bill Montgomery Fights Arizona Voters on Medical Marijuana Law While President Obama Gives Nod to Legal Pot Use in Two States

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is worried he's being forced to violate federal law by implementing Arizona's voter-approved medical-pot law.

Meanwhile, President Obama said today that federal law enforcement officials have better things to do then prosecute adult use of marijuana by anyone in Colorado and Washington, considering that voters in those two states have spoken.

See the disconnect there?

Last week, a judge ordered the county to move forward on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act and give a would-be Sun City dispensary the zoning information it needs to complete its application with the state Department of Health.

The reason for the judge's order was the bad advice Montgomery gave the county Board of Supervisors earlier this year about the voter-approved law. Montgomery told the county leaders they could ignore the law passed by more than 841,000 voters, and the county zoning department subsequently failed to issue the White Mountain Health Center the paperwork it needed. The dispensary company sued, and won.

Now Montgomery, with egg on his face, has vowed to appeal the ruling. From his point of view, the vote for medical marijuana should be canceled, and medical-pot patients arrested, because marijuana use is prohibited by federal law.

That's an interesting argument by the Republican county leader, the darling of local social conservatives because of his views on abortion, pornography and strip clubs. But the Democratic country leader, Obama, the guy who can give orders to the Drug Enforcement Agency, believes in the right of voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize cannabis for all adults. Presumably, he cares even less about people who use marijuana following a doctor's recommendation. Obama told ABC News today:

"We've got bigger fish to fry. It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal."

Now, it's true that dozens of medical-marijuana dispensaries in California, Montana and elsewhere have been shuttered by federal agents acting with Obama's blessing, so it remains to be seen whether Obama will allow the retail pot stores that Colorado and Washington voters also approved. Still, Obama's statements today will no doubt be hailed by proponents of legalization as another step in the right direction.

With this casual attitude toward the two states' historic votes on cannabis, Obama isn't ignoring federal law so much as exercising prosecutorial discretion. The former high-school weed smoker knows using the substance wasn't as bad for him as if he'd gotten busted, and he's acknowledging the right of states' voters to choose how they want to deal with marijuana.

Arizona voters have chosen. Three times, in fact.

Montgomery may want support from the federal government for his ideological views, but it looks like he's not going to get it. He can try to fight this White Mountain case -- and Arizona voters' wishes -- all the way to U.S. Supreme Court. But that'll take a while, and the country's views on cannabis -- as shown notably today by the Prez -- are evolving quickly.

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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.