It could be months before the first medicinal marijuana dispensary opens in the state of Arizona while citizens with a vested interest wait on the outcome of a federal lawsuit that is currently blocking these openings.
When Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit on behalf of Governor Jan Brewer in May, it was done in an effort to protect state employees from being prosecuted federally.
It raises a good question because marijuana is still illegal under the eyes of the U.S. government and a Schedule 1 substance. But, with all the other issues that our country faces right now, do the feds still bust medical marijuana dispensaries in states where voters have deemed the sale acceptable?
It appears that no, they are not. After President Barack Obama took office in 2009, policy shifted away from raiding these dispensaries if they are complying by state laws. So why the lawsuit by Arizona? Is there any real danger for state employees who are just doing their jobs by allowing these dispensaries to open?
United States attorneys don't think so. They have asked that the lawsuit be thrown out on procedural grounds. That was in early August. Since then, Horne has filed a response that is currently being looked over by federal judge Susan Bolton.
If she does grant the motion, the lawsuit will be thrown out and that will leave the state powers at be to decide whether or not they will file an appeal. There's a good chance this could drag on for months.
"The main issue is that the governor and attorney general don't want this law to move forward," attorney Steve White of White Berberian said.
It raises another question. The Arizona Department of Health Services has not only been issuing medical marijuana cards, which allow citizens to grow their own marijuana, but they are also issuing caregiver cards for those that qualify. These caregivers cannot themselves use medical marijuana, but they can grow it and get it for patients.
"They are already sanctioning citizens of Arizona to grow, possess and, in many instances, distribute something that is illegal to the Controlled Substances Act," White said.
What kick-started the lawsuit in the first place was that in early May U.S. attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, sent a letter to Health Director Will Humble, which said that even though the law was passed, people involved are still breaking the federal law created by the Controlled Substances Act. Brewer and Horne grasped onto this as the basis for the lawsuit even though it is not stated that prosecutors will go after sick patients or state employees.
According to White, Burke went as far as to call the lawsuit "stupid."
It goes without saying that the opening of these dispensaries spells millions of potential dollars in revenue for the state, so can we give Horne and Brewer the benefit of the doubt that this isn't a political move and that they are really legitimately concerned for state employees?
That is up for citizens to decide.
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