How does it make you feel when something is promised, granted, then taken away? You'd probably feel confused, maybe even resentful. Those who consume and sell medical marijuana in Arizona are feeling this way after the Arizona Court of Appeals perplexed many last week with its ruling against medical marijuana concentrates.
First, Some Background
The first time medical marijuana in Arizona found itself on the ballots was in 1996. Voters approved Proposition 200, but it was eventually shot down because the measure's wording put it at odds with federal law. In the grand scheme of medical marijuana in Arizona, this first measure showed that many people supported legalization, planting the seeds for future activity.
In 2002, Proposition 203 made its way to voters, but failed with only 42.7% of the vote. Along with legalizing medical marijuana, this measure would have reduced marijuana possession to a civil fine, required a "drug related conviction before forfeiture" of property seized during an arrest, and increased violent crime sentencing duration for anyone on drugs. The state was clearly divided on the issue with a majority opinion tracking national politics of the Bush Era.
In 2010, voters passed a law permitting the sale and consumption of medical marijuana in Arizona. Ailing individuals rejoiced in their newfound ability to legally treat their conditions with cannabis flower, creams, edibles and other derivative products.
The Decisive Ruling
Then, in 2018, Rodney Jones was pulled over and found to be in possession of 1.5 grams of cannabis concentrate; he was charged with possession of cannabis and drug paraphernalia. Jones was a card-carrying medical patient under the impression he was complying with the law. Essentially blindsided, he went to court with confidence that the law would protect him but instead was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail. He knew he had to appeal the initial ruling.
On a 2-1 decision in State of Arizona v. Rodney Christopher Jones, the Arizona Court of Appeals dictated that "marijuana" and "cannabis" are two distinct things. Arizona's divided stance on marijuana manifested itself once again. Whether this can be explained by a lack of understanding by the court, political motivation, or something else, the decision communicates a clear disconnect between Arizona legislative body, judicial body, and the state's general population.
As the ruling stands, concentrates and products made with concentrates are illegal. This includes the edibles, creams, tinctures, sprays, and other products that help many Arizonians function on a day-to-day basis.
How Will Medical Marijuana in Arizona Change?
According to a statement released by The Arizona Department of Health Services, the Department “is aware” of the ruling, has yet to take a definite stance, but will uphold law.
“The Arizona Department of Health Services ("the Department") is aware of the recent Arizona Court of Appeals decision regarding hashish and the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
This case arose from a criminal matter and does not directly affect the Department or direct the Department to make any changes to its rules. However, criminal law does take precedence over Department rules. The Department is reviewing this case with its legal counsel to determine whether any rule changes are necessary,” the statement said.
Law enforcement agencies also acknowledge the sense of ambiguity. The decision creates more work for these agencies – work representatives say might be in vain. If the Arizona Supreme Court overrules the Court of Appeal's decision, related charges could potentially be dropped. However, at this point in time, the law is the law. From the eyes of these agencies, the law must stand regardless of hypothetical rulings.
“I have not received a briefing yet on what’s going to be happening, but I do know that (concentrates) no longer fall under the medical marijuana act,” said Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy James Allerton. “And, so, the dispensaries had to get rid of their stock. However, we don’t typically deal with that an awful lot – with the dispensaries – unless we have some reason to believe that there’s illegal activity going on with one.”
Medical dispensary owners are scrambling. Many said they haven’t been given specific directions as to what action to take with their products. Some are destroying their products in case of a raid; some are simply taking products off the shelves. Others are choosing a “business-as-usual” route until they hear otherwise. Regardless of what course of action dispensaries take, they could potentially lose thousands of dollars in lost business and discarded cannabis products.
“I haven’t spoken with any of the narcotics detectives,” Allerton said. “But, as a department, we’re not specifically targeting medical marijuana dispensaries at all.”
Arizona Supreme Court
This ban on concentrates provides a stark contrast to the state of Florida where Gov. Rick Scott and members of state legislature are attempting to ban medical marijuana consumers from smoking the plant itself. Instead, they give the go-ahead to edibles, vaporizers, oils, and other cannabis products that the Arizona Court of Appeals have ruled too potent.
Many Arizonians are hopeful, even expectant, that the Arizona Supreme Court will overturn the ruling.
Another member of Arizona law enforcement said, "The Arizona Supreme Court has not had any issues with (concentrates) in the past."
Many have sort of stake here, but no one more than Rodney Jones, the spark that initiated this debate; he's fighting to be a free man. Years of his life are on the line.
“We are a law enforcement agency. We’re responsible for upholding the law. If we develop probable cause that a law is being violated, of course we’re going to investigate that and charge it as appropriate and as necessary,” Allerton said.
One can hope that a favorable Supreme Court ruling may quell the outright confusion around medical marijuana in Arizona.