The ability of faculty and students to use medical marijuana on college and university campuses is now in the hands of Gov. Jan Brewer.
And it may end up in court.
With only two dissenting votes, the Senate on Wednesday approved legislation to ban possession and use of the drug, even by people who have a state-issued card entitling them to use it for medical purposes, on college campuses. The House already gave its blessing to HB 2349 on a 52-2 margin.
Brewer is no fan of medical marijuana, having urged voters to defeat the 2010 initiative that allows those with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain and use up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. But the governor also has allowed the state Health Department to implement the law.
As of the beginning of the month, the state had issued user cards to more than 22,000 Arizonans.
More recently, Brewer gave the go-ahead to start licensing dispensaries later this year to sell the drug legally. In the interim, cardholders have been allowed to grow their own.
The fight is over the fact that the initiative bans use in public areas and public schools. But it leaves the door open for possession and use on the campuses of colleges and universities.
Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix, said she sponsored the legislation to expand the ban at the behest of the Arizona Board of Regents.
She said allowing the drugs on the campuses would put the schools in violation of federal regulations which require campuses to have policies against illegal drugs. And while the initiative legalized marijuana for medical uses under state law, it remains a felony under federal law to possess it.
The danger, Reeve said, is the schools could become ineligible for federal grants, and federal aid and loans for students could be put at risk.
But Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said that argument does not wash.
“Medical marijuana is legal in a whole bunch of other states,” she said. “And they haven’t had any problems getting federal funding for their university and college campuses.”
Lopez also dismissed fears that the medical marijuana law would lead to people smoking in campus buildings, something already forbidden for tobacco. She pointed out that the drug is available in various other forms, with dispensaries in other states creating cookies and even lollipops.
The real issue, however, may be legal.
The Arizona Constitution precludes legislators from tinkering with voter-approved initiatives. But it does allow changes that “further the purpose” of the measure.
“I don’t think this furthers the intent of the initiative,” Lopez said.
That last point could prove crucial.
“Patient rights aren’t limited to their homes, their workplaces, or, for that matter even schools,” said Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association. More to the point, Yuhas said the rights of patients “are clearly defined in the initiative,” including the right of those with a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued card to use the drug in most places.
Yuhas said he is “confident” that the legislation will be challenged, though he sidestepped questions of whether that will be by his group which includes those who pushed the successful 2010 initiative or others.
That threat of litigation could be enough to convince Brewer to veto the measure.
The governor last year barred state health officials from even accepting applications for dispensaries amid concerns that state employees who processed the forms could be charged under federal law with facilitating the illegal possession of marijuana.
But Brewer backed off earlier this year after a federal judge refused to rule the state initiative conflicts with federal law and a state judge ordered the health department to fully implement what voters approved.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson declined to comment on what his boss might do with the legislation.
Lopez sees another legal issue: discrimination.
She said students and faculty already are permitted to possess and use much more dangerous drugs on campus and in dorm rooms as long as they have a prescription. “Why should medical marijuana be that different?” Lopez asked.