Arizona: Governor Finally Agrees To Fully Implement State’s 2010 Voter-Approved Medical Cannabis LawJanuary 13, 2012
Nearly 14 months after Arizona voters approved Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is finally directing the Arizona Department of Health Services to move forward to fully implementation the law.
A brief history: In November 2010 Arizona voters narrowly decided in favor of ballot measure 203, which removes state-level criminal penalties for the use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana by patients who have written certification from their physician indicating that cannabis may alleviate their condition. The measure also mandated the state to adopt rules to govern the establishment of up to 125 nonprofit cannabis dispensaries, which would be legally authorized to produce and dispense marijuana to authorized patients on a not-for-profit basis.
In April 2011, the Arizona Department of Health Services formalized rules regarding an online ID-card registration for qualified patients. (More than 16,000 Arizona residents are now registered with the state to legally possess cannabis.) The Department also announced at that time that it would begin accepting applications from would-be dispensary operators by June 1. That deadline came and went, however, when Gov. Brewer — who had opposed the passage of AMMA — filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that her administration’s compliance with the law’s state-licensing provisions would put state employees in danger of federal prosecution. In response to Gov. Brewer’s suit, attorneys representing the American Civil Liberties Union and the NORML Legal Committee co-authored a Motion to Dismiss the case.
Their efforts were successful. Earlier this month, a federal judge rejected Gov. Brewer’ challenge, asserting “[T]he Complaint does not detail any history of prosecution of state employees for participation in state medical marijuana licensing schemes. [and] fails to establish that Plaintiffs are subject to a genuine threat of imminent prosecution and consequently, the Complaint does not meet the constitutional requirements for ripeness. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ claims are unripe and must be dismissed.”
So, has Gov. Brewer finally gotten the message? Apparently so.
Today, Brewer’s office stated for the record that they would no longer challenge the state’s nascent law in court and instead will cooperate to see that the voters’ demands are once and for all fully enacted. Said the Governor in a press release:
“The State of Arizona will not re-file in federal court a lawsuit that sought clarification that State employees would not be subject to federal criminal prosecution simply for implementing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Instead, I have directed the Arizona Department of Health Services to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications, and issuing licenses for those facilities once a (separate) pending legal challenge to the Department’s medical marijuana rules is resolved. … With our request for clarification rebuffed on procedural grounds by the federal court, I believe the best course of action now is to complete the implementation of Proposition 203 in accordance with the law.”
According to the website of the Arizona Department of Health, the department hopes to begin accepting applications for dispensaries this summer. To date, only three states — Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico — have granted licenses to allow for the state-sanctioned production and distribution of cannabis. (Several other states, including Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont, have enacted licensing legislation but to date have refused to issue any actual dispensary licenses.)
Under Arizona law, qualified patients may cultivate their own cannabis at home if they do not reside within 25 miles of an operating cannabis dispensary.
Additional information regarding Arizona’s medicinal cannabis program is available from the Arizona Department of Health Services here.
Regulations have been finalized to allow for the sanctioned-use and dispensing of medical cannabis in two more regions of the country: Arizona and in the nation’s capitol, Washington, DC.
In Arizona, representatives from the Arizona Department of Health Services have approved rules governing the state’s soon-to-be-implemented Arizona Medical Marijuana Program. Voters directed the state to approve regulations regarding the use and distribution of medicinal marijuana in November when they decided in favor of Proposition 203 — making Arizona the fifteenth state since 1996 to legalize the physician-authorized use of cannabis. Program rules, physician certification forms, and answers to frequently asked questions are all available online from the Arizona Department of Health Services here.
Arizona patients may begin qualifying for the program next week, and dispensary applications will be accepted beginning June 1. All patients initially approved by the state will have the option to cultivate their own marijuana. However, patients who reside within 25 miles of a state-licensed dispensary will lose this option once such facilities are up and running later this fall.
In the District of Columbia, city leaders have finally signed off on long-awaited rules regulating patients’ use and access to cannabis. Those rules are expected to take effect April 15. The just-finalized regulations will permit D.C. officials to allow as many as ten cultivation centers and five dispensaries in the District. Permit applications are anticipated to be available by April 17.
The forthcoming rules implement facets of I-59, the Legalization of Marijuana for Medical Treatment Initiative, a 1998 municipal ballot measure which garnered 69 percent of the vote yet was never implemented. Under the new regulations, qualifying D.C. patients will be able to obtain medical cannabis at licensed dispensaries, but will not be permitted under the law to grow their own medicine.
Washington DC’s forthcoming program is limited to residents of the District of Columbia and is not reflective of any broader change in federal policy.
Additional information on these and other state medical marijuana programs is available from the NORML website here.
2010 Election Update: Cooley Leading In Polls Is Bad News For California Medical Marijuana Patients, AZ’s Prop. 203 Continues To TrailNovember 8, 2010
Though the race for California‘s next Attorney General still officially remains undecided, Republican candidate Steve Cooley is now leading Democrat Kamala Harris by some 26,000 votes. The Los Angeles Times reports that at least 850,000 ballots — mostly mail-in ballots that arrived in election offices on election day — still need to be counted, and that the race remains far from over.
The race for California Attorney General has significant implications for the distribution of medical cannabis in California, as Cooley has previously pledged to prosecute dispensaries that engage in over-the-counter cash sales of marijuana to authorized patients. In October, while serving as Los Angeles District Attorney, Cooley declared that state law bars sales of medical marijuana, and opined: “The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally. … The time is right to deal with this problem.”
Present Attorney General guidelines, issued under former A.G. (now Governor-elect) Jerry Brown in 2008, authorize the distribution and non-profit sales of medical cannabis in California by qualified “collectives and cooperatives,” but warn that ‘storefront’ business that engage in the for-profit sales of medical marijuana “are likely operating outside the protections” of state law. Cooley has long maintained that California dispensaries that engage in over-the-counter sales to customers do not meet a legal definition of ‘collectives’ or ‘not-for-profit’ entities.
By contrast, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris has previously voiced strong support for protecting the legal rights of patients who use cannabis medicinally.
In Arizona, Proposition 203 is still trailing — now by some 6,600 votes — with more than 100,000 still remaining to be counted. If passed, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, would permit state-registered patients to obtain cannabis legally from licensed facilities.
Arizonans have twice before — in 1996 and again in 1998 — voted in favor of medical marijuana ballot measures, though neither proposal was ever enacted by the legislature. This year’s proposal was sponsored by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, an affiliate of the Marijuana Policy Project.
In Michigan, voters elected vocal medical marijuana opponent Bill Schuette to be the state’s next Attorney General. Schuette was a vocal opponent against Proposal 1, the 2008 voter initiative that legalized the physician-authorized use of medical cannabis. While running for Attorney General, Schuette continued to campaign against both medical marijuana and broader efforts to halt the prosecution of non-medical consumers. Since the election, however, Schuette has yet to weigh in on whether he will use his office to target and prosecute the state’s emerging medical cannabis dispensaries.
Finally, in Connecticut, state officials have officially declared Democrat Dan Malloy as the state’s next Governor. Malloy had been in an exceedingly close race with Republican opponent Tom Foley.
Malloy has reportedly voiced support for decriminalizing marijuana for adults, and also supports the legalization of medical cannabis. Malloy’s predecessor, Republican M. Jodi Rell, vetoed legislation in 2007 that would have allowed for the legal use of marijuana by those authorized by their physician. In recent years, lawmakers in Connecticut have expressed support for both medical marijuana and decriminalization.
[Friday morning update!] In California, voters decided 46 percent to 54 percent, against Prop. 19, which sought to legalize the adult possession of limited quantities of marijuana in private, and to allow for local governments to regulate its commercial production and retail distribution. The 46+ percent (3,471,308 million Californians) voting ‘yes’ on Prop. 19 marks the greatest percentage of citizen support ever recorded on a statewide marijuana legalization effort.
Commenting on the vote, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that marijuana legalization is no longer a matter of ‘if,’ but a matter of ‘when.’
“Social change doesn’t happen overnight, and in this case we are advocating for the repeal of a criminal policy that has existed for over 70 years federally and for nearly 100 years in California,” he said. “We are taking on the establishment and those who have vested interests in maintaining this longstanding failed policy. Yet, despite these odds, we have momentum and an unparalleled coalition of supporters – from law enforcement personnel, to civil rights groups, to organized labor, to lawyers, clergy, and public health professionals. In just a few short months, this campaign moved public opinion forward nationally, and led to the signing of historic legislation here in California that will end the arrest and prosecution of tens of thousands of minor marijuana offenders.”
He continued: “Throughout this campaign, even our opponents conceded that America’s present marijuana prohibition is a failure. They recognize that the question now isn’t ‘Should be legalize and regulate marijuana,’ but ‘How should we legalize and regulate marijuana?’”
He concluded: “In the near future there will be a slew of other states deciding on measures similar to Prop. 19 in their state houses and at the ballot box. And no doubt here in California, lawmakers in 2011 will once again be debating this issue, as will the voters in 2012.”
Backers of the measure have already announced plans for a similar campaign in 2012.
In Arizona, voters are narrowly against Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which would permit state-registered patients to obtain cannabis legally from licensed facilities. But the gap is closing. As of Friday morning, the the race still remains too close to call, with Prop. 203 is trailing by less than 4,000 votes. With as many as 300,000 ballots and provisional ballots left to be counted, it could be several more days before election officials make an official decision. The proposal is sponsored by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project, an affiliate of the Marijuana Policy Project. Learn more about Proposition 203 here: http://stoparrestingpatients.org/home/.
In South Dakota, voters decided against Measure 13, the South Dakota Safe Access Act, which sought to exempt state criminal penalties for state-authorized patients who possessed marijuana. South Dakota voters had previously rejected a similar proposal in 2006. It is the only state where voters have ever decided against a medical marijuana legalization initiative.
In Oregon, voters decided against Measure 74, The Oregon Regulate Medical Marijuana Supply System Act of 2010, which sought to create state-licensed not-for-profit facilities to assist in the production and distribution of marijuana to qualified patients. Oregon voters initially authorized the physician-authorized use of marijuana in 1998. Several states, including Colorado, New Mexico, and Maine, have enacted statewide regulations licensing the production and dispensing of medical cannabis.
In other election developments that are pertinent to marijuana law reformers, California Democrat Kamala Harris is still narrowly leading Republican Steven Cooley for the office of state Attorney General. As of Friday morning, Harris is leading Cooley by less than one tenth of one percentage point (some 9,000 total votes) with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Yet with over two million ballots still left to count, The L.A. Times today reports, “With such a slim gap, the race for California’s top law enforcement office remained too close to call, and a clear winner may not emerge for days or even weeks.” Cooley is opposed by many marijuana reform organizations, including Americans for Safe Access, for his public opposition to medical marijuana, and his contention that any retail sale of medical cannabis is in violation of state law.
Also, in California, voters approved citywide ordinances in Albany (Measure Q), Berkeley (Measure S), La Puente (Prop. M), Oakland (Measure V), Rancho Cordova (Measure O), Richmond, Sacramento (Measure C), San Jose (Measure U), Stockton (Measure I) to impose new taxes on medical marijuana sales and/or production and businesses licenses. California NORML, along with several other reform groups, specifically opposed the Rancho Cordova measure as an excessive penalty on medical cannabis growers. Groups were divided in their support of many of the other local proposals.
Voters in Berkeley also approved a separate ordinance (Measure T) to permit a fourth medical marijuana dispensary in the city and reconstitute the city’s Medical Marijuana Commission Voters in Morro Bay and Santa Barbara rejected proposed municipal bans on dispensaries.
New Mexico voters elected Republican Susan Martinez to be the state’s next Governor. While campaigning for the office, Martinez voiced opposition to the state’s medical cannabis law, which since 2007 has allowed the state Department of Health to authorize medical marijuana users and third party, not-for-profit providers.
In Vermont, Democrat Peter Shumlin narrowly leads in the Governor’s race, with 91 percent of precincts reporting. While serving as state senator, Shumlin has been an advocate for both medical marijuana and decriminalization.
Connecticut voters have narrowly elected Democrat Dan Malloy for Governor. However, as of Friday morning, his Republican challenger Tom Foley appears ready to legally challenge the vote count. Malloy reportedly supports decriminalizing marijuana for adults, and also supports the legalization of medical cannabis. Malloy’s predecessor, Republican M. Jodi Rell, vetoed legislation in 2007 that would have allowed for the legal use of marijuana by those authorized by their physician.
In Massachusetts, voters in over 70 cities and towns decided favorably on non-binding public policy questions regarding the taxation of the adult use of marijuana and the legalization of the physician-supervised use of medical cannabis. Approximately 13 percent of the state’s registered voters weighed in on the questions.
Finally, Dane County (Madison), Wisconsin voters resoundingly backed a non-binding local initiative that asked, “Should the Wisconsin Legislature enact legislation allowing residents with debilitating medical conditions to acquire and possess marijuana for medical purposes if supported by their physician?” Seventy-five percent of voters decided ‘yes’ on the measure. In recent years, Wisconsin has been a highly contested battleground state in the fight for medical cannabis access.
It’s on. Voters across the nation are taking to the polls.
NORML will be closely following today’s election results — from the historic vote on California’s Prop. 19, to the statewide votes in Arizona (Prop. 203), Oregon (Measure 74), and South Dakota (Measure 13).
NORML’s podcast producer Russ Belville will be broadcasting election day and night coverage live from the Prop. 19 Campaign headquarters, starting at approximately 1pm pst. You may view the stream here.
You can also keep up-to-date on the latest election news via NORML’s facebook page here.
Finally, in related polling news, a just-released national survey from Angus Reid finds that a plurality of Americans (42 percent) “believe the proposition’s passage would be good for the country,” while only 33 percent disagree.
In other words, the nation is watching — and rooting — for Prop. 19.
The polls close at 8pm California; let’s get busy!