Despite continued opposition, Arizona dispensaries open for business
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and other high-profile opponents of medical marijuana are still fighting against the will of voters, but Arizona's medical marijuana program has made great progress since August 2012, when 98 registration certificates were awarded. The first state-licensed dispensary opened in December 2012, and as of mid-November 2013, there are 71 disepensaries open and close to 42,000 cardholders.
Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery tried to convince a judge to shut down the program, but to no avail. In December 2012, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon rejected Horne and Montgomery’s arguments and refused to declare Arizona’s law invalid. Montgomery was again defeated in November 2013, when Judge Gordon held that counties cannot undercut Arizona's Medical Marijuana Act by changing local zoning laws to effectively prohibit all dispensaries.
The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows those with a doctors' recommendations to get cards from the state allowing them to legally obtain and possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. The law establishes a system of state-regulated dispensaries to sell marijuana and also allows patients that live further than 25 miles away from a dispensary to grow up 12 plants at a time.
Two men recently challenged the 25-mile rule, arguing that it violated the state constitution by forcing them to go to a dispensary to get marijuana. In October 2013, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper rejected their argument, stating that the rule is constitutional and does not force medical marijuana patients into a particular “health care system.”
Despite continued litigation, the program has continued to move forward since Prop 203, MPP’s ballot initiative, passed in November 2010. Now, the next step for Arizona is to make recreational marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age or older. In the fall of 2013, MPP announced its plan to pass a statewide ballot initiative that would tax and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. Keep an eye out for news and updates regarding MPP’s plans for Arizona over the next few years.
2011 legislature weakens Prop 203
Sadly, the Arizona Legislature slightly rolled back Prop 203’s protections with legislation in both 2011 and 2012, despite the state’s Voter Protection Act, which was designed to prevent legislative meddling.
Most recently, the legislature passed and Gov. Brewer signed H.B. 2349, a bill banning medical marijuana on the campuses of all colleges and vocational schools in the state. Medical marijuana advocates predict the law will be deemed unconstitutional if challenged in court.
In 2011, the legislature passed and Gov. Brewer signed H.B. 2541, which will possibly allow an employer to fire a medical marijuana patient based on a report alleging workplace impairment from a colleague who is “believed to be reliable.” It will also seemingly allow termination based on a positive drug test, which contradicts Prop 203’s explicit language protecting patients from termination without proof of workplace impairment or possession.
Also in 2011, the legislature passed and Gov. Brewer signed H.B. 2585, which contradicts Prop 203 by adding confidential medical marijuana patient data to the prescription drug monitoring program, where it will be subject to “fishing expeditions” by law enforcement and others.
Learn about Arizona's marijuana laws
Did you know that Arizona has some of the harshest marijuana penalties in the country? For example, the penalty for possession of just one ounce of marijuana can be a felony that carries a potential penalty of 18 months in jail and a $150,000 fine! A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that over 55% of drug arrests in Arizona are for marijuana possession, and that blacks are 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites.
Also, in 2009, Arizona passed H.B. 2013, which requires drug testing for public assistance recipients if there is “reasonable cause.” All adult recipients must answer three questions during the application process and must complete a drug test within 10 days, if any of the answers provide “reasonable cause” of illegal substance use or if referred by law enforcement or another agency. Recipients who test positive will be denied cash-assistance benefits for a year.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Arizona, be sure to subscribe to MPP's free legislative alert service, if you haven't done so already.