Arizona Superior Court Judge: State-Licensed Dispensing Of Medical Cannabis Is Not Preempted By Federal Law

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director December 18, 2012

    A 2010 voter-approved Arizona state law authorizing “the local cultivation, sale, and use, of medical marijuana” is not preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, according to the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County.

    The ruling, issued earlier this month by Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon, allows for the establishment of state-licensed medicinal cannabis dispensaries within Arizona — the first of which opened its doors last week. State-licensed medical marijuana facilities now operate in several states, including Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Maine.

    A majority of Arizona voters approved the AMMA in 2010. Under the law, qualified patients may possess and, depending on where they reside, cultivate cannabis. The program also mandates the state to license citizens to form not-for-profit dispensaries to grow and dispense cannabis. AMMA requires that each of the state’s 126 Community Health Care Analysis Areas permit at least one dispensary operator. Maricopa County’s prosecutor sought to block the establishment of local dispensaries by claiming that AMMA was preempted by federal anti-drug laws.

    Writing for the Court in White Mountain Health Center, Inc. v. Maricopa County, Judge Gordon declared that nothing in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act circumvents federal law since Justice Department officials, if they wished to do so, could still continue to locally enforce the Controlled Substances Act. “No one can argue that the federal government’s ability to enforce the CSA is impaired to the slightest degree [by Arizona’s medical marijuana law],” Gordon opined, adding that the new law “affirmatively provides a roadmap for federal enforcement of the CSA, if they so wished to” since the statute requires patients and proprietors to register their activities with the state.

    Judge Gordon further suggested that Arizona’s law did not conflict with the federal lawmakers’ intentions when they enacted the federal Controlled Substances Act. He declared, “Instead of frustrating the CSA’s purpose, it is sensible to argue that the AMMA furthers the CSA’s objectives in combating drug abuse and the illegitimate trafficking of controlled substances.”

    He concluded: “The Court rejects … arguments that the [law] violates public policy simply because marijuana use and possession violate federal law. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation permitting the use of marijuana in whole or in part. The Court will not rule that Arizona, having sided with the ever-growing minority of States, and having limited it to medical use, has violated public policy.”

    Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is appealing Judge Gordon’s ruling.

    Arizona regulations regarding patient access and dispensary operations is available from the Arizona Department of Health Services here.

    17 responses to “Arizona Superior Court Judge: State-Licensed Dispensing Of Medical Cannabis Is Not Preempted By Federal Law”

    1. Dave says:

      So instead any sort of protection, the following state law is a set up so the Feds can round up people months or years after taking part in a “legal, not legal system”.

      Sounds like it is best to stay underground; as the laws continue to suck. Follow the law right to your own bust? WTF??? Nevermind about the fifth admendment as following the law deactivates it. Jesus…

    2. Nonya says:

      Bill Montgomery is a maggott! How much county money and resources is he waisting by pursuing this? I know you think you can invoke federal law whenever it’s convenient but, unfortunatly you are just a lowly county attorney, yeas County, not state and certainly NOT federal! Do your job Bill Stop trying to be Eric Holder!

    3. Galileo Galilei says:

      Federalism! I love it.

    4. Diane says:

      “not-for-profit” ? My question to you ~ Does the matching funds come from State and Federal monies?

    5. Ll says:

      Everyone knows that the federal government cannot enforce Prohibition. They have almost infinite money and so could employ an almost infinite number of police, but the people wouldn’t stand for a million federal arrests per year, made by tens of thousands of federal police. So they enforce it thru proxies, our local police departments.

      The local police are only too happy to take federal money, but if the people change state laws, that game is up!

      And can Obama sue states that legalize marijuana for not enforcing federal Prohibition laws, after sueing states to stop them from enforcing federal immigration laws?! I’d like to see someone ask Holder to justify that!

    6. somedood says:

      butt brown is the color that mows mens hairs.

    7. David says:

      I love how the dude lost, and is still pursueing it, even though it is a waste of tax payer money and I am sure his time could be better spent, I dont know prosecuting murders or something.

    8. Gweedo says:


      You think the federal government has “infinite money???” That’s like the one thing they DON’T have. There are budget cuts everywhere. Haven’t you heard anything about all this debt ceiling stuff they’ve been dealing with? That means they’re out of money. They don’t have infinite money to spend on infinite DEA officers. That’s nuts.

    9. steve-says says:

      I new it.the stupid law makers will not let people in AZ have cannabis. So BS.People in AZ. are suffering for alot of pain and cancer,and lots of other problem that the doctors are not helping with there pills.Think of all the children that have cancer and could be helped with cannabis.shame

    10. TheOracle says:

      Got it. So, they’re allowed because the feds can still come in to enforce federal prohibition if they want. State and local authorities will do nothing to prevent it, which is why the federal supremacy has to be neutralized to get that bill passed. What is it Bill 6606?

      So, if you got bigger fish to fry, there’s no problem using this bill make a sequestration cut. Put it in there, even if you have to add language in the fiscal cliff legislation referring to House Bill 6606 or whatever.

      Congress, get it done!