Sat, Aug. 17

My Turn: Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Program: facts tell real story

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act was narrowly passed by the voters in November of 2010. The Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services states that we have a “model” program, and that the demographics of the card users show the “vast majority are legitimately accessing the system.” (Az. Republic 7/20/12)

Do the facts really support these claims?

ADHS has issued 30,550 medical marijuana patient cards. Only 1,275 of the cards are for cancer; 27,330 of the cards are for self-defined chronic pain. Interestingly, 74 percent of the patient cards have been issued to males; 26 percent to females. Forty-seven percent of the cards have been issued to users between the ages of 18 and 40.

Within about three weeks, ADHS will license 126 dispensaries in Arizona; each dispensary can also grow marijuana at a second off-site location. Thirteen applications were received to operate dispensaries in north Tempe, the location of ASU.

There is no limit to the amount of marijuana a dispensary may grow or sell. Dispensaries are also permitted to sell marijuana to other dispensaries, and prepare and sell food products infused with marijuana.

While ADHS moves forward full speed ahead to license the cultivation of marijuana, the Department of Justice is moving just as fast to seize medical marijuana dispensaries in other states, asserting the supremacy of the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”).

In California, the U.S. Attorney recently seized the Oakland and San Jose locations of the Harborside Health Center, adding to the list of dispensaries already shut down by the federal government in that state. It is only a matter of time before the same dispensaries licensed by Arizona officials will be shut down by our U.S. Attorney.

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides that federal law “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Under this principle, state laws that conflict with federal law are preempted. The United States Supreme Court has ruled, in Gonzales v. Raich, that state medical marijuana laws are preempted by the federal CSA.

Although states may lawfully choose to exempt marijuana from state criminal liability, they cannot affirmatively authorize a use that federal law prohibits. Any use of marijuana remains a crime under federal law, as does the facilitation of those acts. There is no immunity in the CSA for Arizona officials for issuing medical marijuana licenses.

Is this really “medical” marijuana when 4 percent of the cards are for individuals with cancer and 88 percent for chronic pain? Does it make medical sense that 74 percent of the “patients” are male? Is our law really a model when it allows the cultivation of marijuana by dispensaries in unlimited amounts?

Is it a model program when state officials license the use of marijuana directly in conflict with federal law? Lastly, what kind of model program has one arm of the government licensing dispensaries while another arm of government is shutting them down?

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney and Co-Chair of MATForce, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition.