Arizona Attorney General Will Not Defend Controversial Medical Marijuana Case

By Will Stone
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 3:20pm
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 6:37pm

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says he will not defend a controversial medical marijuana case at the state’s highest court.

In a surprise move, Brnovich’s office filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and to let Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk represent the state’s position instead.

The case could decide whether cannabis extracts are legal for Arizona’s nearly 180,000 medical marijuana card holders. It stems from the arrest of a medical marijuana patient in Yavapai County named Rodney Jones who was sentenced to prison for a small amount of cannabis oil. 

Jones had obtained the product from a licensed dispensary. But Polk’s office prosecuted Jones on drug charges, arguing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act does not immunize cannabis extracts, only the flower.

Extracts go into many popular products sold at dispensaries — everything from vapes pens to edibles.

Earlier this year, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Jones’ conviction and put patients on notice that they could also be charged with felonies.

After defending the state’s position at the appeals court, Brnovich’s office now appears to be abandoning its argument that patients like Jones should be charged with felonies for cannabis extracts.  

“It is not normal for this to happen,” said Jared Keenan, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

“Essentially, it leaves a situation where the state disagrees with itself and is taking two diametrically opposed positions on the issue.”

The ACLU is among the organizations asking the state supreme court to overturn the lower court's ruling, which in effect criminalizes any patient using cannabis extracts.

It’s unclear if the decision to kick the case to Polk’s office actually signals a reversal in Brnovich’s position, though.

Keenan hopes it does.

“It would be great if the Attorney General filed a motion and made it clear that his office has changed its mind on the issue,” said Keenan.

Polk did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She has previously told KJZZ her office routinely prosecutes cannabis extract cases.

While Jones had cannabis oil with a high concentration of the psychoactive compound THC (also called "hashish"), the logic used in the appeals court ruling could apply to any extract, including those with CBD, which is not psychoactive and is used to treat conditions like epilepsy and chronic pain.