County Attorney Bill Montgomery Continues His Failing Crusade Against Arizona's Medical Marijuana Law

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery vowed this week to continue trying to derail medical marijuana in Arizona in spite of another significant and expensive loss in court.

On Wednesday, the same day the Arizona Court of Appeals released its ruling against Montgomery, the county, and the state of Arizona, Montgomery held a press conference in which he distorted the findings of a new survey about youth marijuana use and claimed they showed a need to "reform" the voter-approved, 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).

Montgomery appears emboldened by last month's defeat of Proposition 205, the only one of five marijuana-legalization ballot measures in the nation voters rejected this election season. Yet while he believes taxpayers should continue to fund his attack on the medical program, state Attorney General Mark Brnovich apparently doesn't feel the same enthusiasm. As of Thursday morning, Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson says the AG's office has no response to the question of whether Brnovich intends to back an appeal to the Arizona State Supreme Court.

Wednesday's 3-0 ruling in White Mountain v. Maricopa County is merely the latest in a string of failures in the case for Montgomery. White Mountain Health Center, a Sun City dispensary run by marijuana activist and bong-tool inventor Daryl "Butch" Williams, sued the county in 2012 after Montgomery advised the board of supervisors not to cooperate with zoning-approval procedures for the business.

Montgomery told New Times at the time that he hoped the case would be the "dam" to overturn the 2010 state law, based on his legal theory that the program is hopelessly at odds with federal law.

Brnovich inherited the case when he took office — it was his predecessor, disgraced former Attorney General Tom Horne, who joined Montgomery in trying to thwart the will of the voters.

It's clear that Montgomery's quest to sink the law doesn't have the support of the public. Arizonans support the AMMA more strongly now than in 2010. Only 13 percent of respondents in a statewide poll last year told Arizona State University's Morrison Institute that they'd like to see medical marijuana outlawed. As of last month, marijuana is legal for medicinal or recreational use in more than half of U.S. states.

Previously in the White Mountain case, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon called Montgomery's opposition a "transparent attempt" to stymie the law. He levied a $5,000 sanction on the county on top of the roughly $200,000 in legal fees he awarded to White Mountain's legal team, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union. The order requires both the county and state to pay the legal fees.

In Wednesday's opinion, Judge Donn Kessler reversed the sanction, writing that the county didn't unnecessarily delay the case, as Gordon had found. But he blasted Montgomery's theory that federal law pre-empts the AMMA and that state employees should fear prosecution for overseeing the dispensary program. In December 2015, Kessler noted, Congress passed a law prohibiting the federal government from spending any money in most cases to thwart state-approved medical-marijuana laws.

The court based its conclusion on last year's unanimous ruling by the state supreme court that federal law does not undermine Arizona's medical marijuana act.

Montgomery vows to continue his fight by forcing a review of that ruling.

"That the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act provides an affirmative, state authorized program to directly engage in conduct prohibited by the Federal Controlled Substances Act cannot be denied," Montgomery declared in a written statement. "To protect our system of federalism, it requires the willingness for courts to act where a State, whether by initiative or legislative action, runs afoul of Congressional action upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Failure to do so undermines our foundational principle of the rule of law."

Steve White, one of White Mountain's lawyers, tells New Times that the case could wind up costing taxpayers far more than $200,000, given that the appeals court ruled that the county and state are on the hook for all of White Mountain's legal fees since Gordon's 2012 ruling, as well. That figure has yet to be tallied.

"People who can't be impacted in any way by the facts — those are the scariest people there are," White says.

Montgomery continued his anti-marijuana tirade at yesterday's news conference to announce the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission's release the results of the 2016 Arizona Youth Survey.

The survey showed that overall, lifetime marijuana use by eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders declined through this year, continuing a trend that began in 2010.

Of the smaller fraction of Arizona teens who now use marijuana, a tiny increase — 0.6 percent — was noted in the number of past-30-day users. The study found that the increase was driven by a 0.4 percent increase in 30-day use by eighth graders and a 0.2-percent increase in 30-day use by twelfth graders. Tenth-grade past-30-day use continued to fall.

Yet overall, Arizona teens' past 30-day use of marijuana among all the grades remains lower now than it was in 2012. From a statistical point of view, youth use of marijuana has been flat since voters approved the medical marijuana law, despite repeated warnings by prohibitionists before the 2010 election that the law would result in increased teen use.

Montgomery turned these statistics upside down at the news conference, claiming that youth use is now skyrocketing.

As a KTAR article explained, Montgomery "compared data from 2014 and concluded there was a 100 percent increase among eighth graders then, compared to 10th graders in 2016."

That massive "increase," he argued, means officials should take immediate action.

"I think it may be time for us to take a look at that entire program to see whether or not it needs serious reform to insure that its doing what we were told it was supposed to do, and keep it out of the hands of kids," Montgomery told reporters.
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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.