Watch your step, medical-marijuana users:
Phoenix police say they might bust you for holding the wrong kind of cookie.
In researching this week's cover story about marijuana food products and concentrates, "Half Baked," New Times asked police to clarify their position on the preparations of marijuana not protected by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
Patients and dispensary operators won't like the answer, though it might not surprise them.
As our article discusses, police and prosecutors around the state decided on their own to interpret the 2010 law as forbidding marijuana extracts. Their theory, untested in courts, is that while the AMMA allows qualified people to possess marijuana buds and "any mixture or preparation thereof," an older law defining the "resin extracted" from marijuana as a "narcotic" still applies.
Based on advice from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, says Phoenix police Sergeant Steve Martos, Phoenix police will continue to treat this "narcotic" as a felony for people registered to use marijuana medicinally under state law.
Hashish, hash oil, and "kief" are out. Even a basic preparation like strained cannabutter is disallowed for patients, Martos told New Times in an e-mail.
Police are prepared to use the crime lab to determine whether marijuana-infused food and drinks were made with a concentrate, he says.
See below for Martos' e-mail in full:
Sergeant Martos' e-mail:
Hash oil purity:
"In order to identify marijuana we need to be able to look at plant material under the microscope and observe structures on the leaf surfaces. If someone has removed the resin from the plant material by mechanical or chemical means what we get is hashish, hash oil or cannabutter for example.
I can tell you that hashish runs the gamut in color from green to dark brown. Under the microscope it appears resinous and not like plant material and occasionally there may be some particles of plant material adhering to it. The resinous material does not look like plant material, nor does it contain the features in place for us to look at so we do not call it marijuana. Testing the hashish in the lab will allow us to identify THC and other cannabinoids which is how we arrive at classifying the material as cannabis (narcotic drug) vs. marijuana.
The lab does not grade hashish or marijuana for that matter for purity, quality etc. If we receive a food product as evidence, which contain no plant material, but we can identify THC etc. the material will be reported out as cannabis (narcotic drug). Our examination of items submitted as evidence is using definitions contained in ARS 13-3401. We do not use the AMMA as a means of testing evidence submitted to the laboratory.
"cannabutter": This substance is considered a narcotic drug if created from extracts from marijuana. We deal with this in accordance with title 13.
We do not have a department policy for every single Title 13 criminal violation. It is our job as law enforcement personnel to enforce the laws of Arizona, which is what is being done when it comes to the aforementioned violations related to use/possession of cannabis. Department policies are not specific to each A.R.S. code.
Other Valley police agencies, as well as prosecutors around the state, are developing their own interpretations of the "preparations" law, with many apparently taking the same stance as the Phoenix PD.
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This policy, driven locally by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, seems like it's on shaky ground, given the law's allowance of "any . . . preparation." The law enforcement interpretation seems at odds with science. For example, although Martos states, "the resinous material does not look like plant material," it is, in fact, plant material.
Responding to concerns by law enforcement, Will Humble, director of the Department of Health Services, directed his staff to come up with guidelines for dispensaries that sell medibles or operate kitchens. Marijuana advocates worry the policies of law enforcement agencies, and the pending DHS guidelines, means the end of most kinds of medibles in Arizona, even though eating or drinking herb (and its extracts) is a more healthful alternative for users than smoking.
Experts tell us the issue will likely end up in courts.
Concentrates and edibles are a hot topic in the marijuana world right now, with Colorado and Washington preparing to sell them along with buds at retail stores to anyone 21 and older. We get into the subject in detail in our feature story, so give it a click.