Arizona to file lawsuit over controversial state medical marijuana law

[JURIST] Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) [official website] announced Tuesday the state is filing a federal lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment over the legality of the state's controversial medical marijuana [JURIST news archive] law passed last November. Brewer said that it is necessary to see if the new law violates federal law [press release, PDF] in order to protect state workers charged with distributing the marijuana from federal prosecution. The lawsuit was spurred by a May 2 letter [text] sent to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) [official website] by Dennis Burke, the US Attorney for the District of Arizona, warning the department that, regardless of the new state law, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The letter stated that the US Attorneys Office (USAO) [official website] would still prosecute those who manufacture and distribute the substance and that clear and unambiguous compliance with state law would not protect consumers from prosecution. Brewer decided to seek guidance from a federal court, saying:

For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it's important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution. As explained in a recent letter from the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, the federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. Arizonans deserve clarity on an issue with such dire legal implications.
The ADHS Director, Will Humble, said that the department will continue to distribute [blog post] qualified patient and designated caregiver cards through its website.

Last November, Arizona voters approved [JURIST report] Proposition 203 [text, PDF] by a slim margin 50.13 to 49.87 percent, authorizing the possession of up to two-and-a-half ounces of medical marijuana or up to 12 cannabis plants. The medical marijuana is only allowed for individuals with any of a set list of medical conditions including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and AIDS who have gotten a recommendation from their physician and have registered with the Arizona Department of Health Services. Arizona is the fifteenth state to legalize medical marijuana. In addition to Arizona, voters in California, South Dakota and Oregon also voted on a range of marijuana-based propositions during the midterm elections, all of which were rejected.

 

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