The Debate Over Arizona's Medical Marijuana Extract Law Explained

By Will Stone, Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - 3:15pm
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LAUREN GILGER: Arizona Supreme Court is preparing to hear a high-profile case on medical marijuana next month. But that isn't stopping some state lawmakers from taking aim at the issue, too. Specifically, whether or not cannabis extracts qualify as a legal form of medical marijuana. KJZZ's Will Stone has been covering this case closely and he's joining us now. Good morning, Will.

WILL STONE: Good morning, Lauren.

GILGER: OK, so, Will, first remind us what exactly is the disagreement here over medical marijuana that's now made its way all the way to the state Supreme Court?

STONE: It hinges on the question of what voters intended when they passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in 2010. So cannabis extracts go into many of the products sold at dispensaries — vape pens, edibles, even rubs — basically anything that isn't the actual cannabis flower. And all these are sold currently at dispensaries, and they're all regulated by the state. But there's been essentially a simmering debate, Lauren, advanced mostly by opponents of marijuana that because Arizona's voter approved law does not explicitly mention extracts, that they're not actually allowed. Now just to be clear, the law does define usable marijuana as "the dried flowers of the marijuana plants and any mixture or preparation thereof." But some, most notably Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, still argue that isn't sufficient and extracts don't fall into the definition of medical marijuana.

GILGER: So, Will, you've reported on how some cardholders have been arrested and even face prison time for extracts. What law is at play in those situations?

STONE: The patients are being charged under Arizona's criminal code, and in these cases that you mentioned, the prosecutors are saying even though you have a card, none of the protections of the medical marijuana law apply. And so we're going to default to the criminal code. And that actually, Lauren, assigns an especially harsh penalty for extracts, which refers to as hashish, and that's a serious felony.

GILGER: Yeah. So, now lawmakers are getting involved at the state Capitol. What are they doing to address this confusion?

STONE: They're trying to pass legislation that would basically make it clear extracts are indeed legal under Arizona's medical marijuana program. One bill — the one that seems to have most traction — introduced byRep. Tony Rivero, who's a Republican from Peoria, basically rewrites Arizona's criminal code to clear up this discrepancy, and it strikes this definition of hashish, which is just a way of saying extracts, from the criminal code. So, that means it doesn't actually have to tinker with the voter-approved law. And there is a better chance it will pass.

GILGER: OK. OK. So how does this kind of intersect with what the Supreme Court is hearing with this case?

STONE: It's tricky. You see, the Supreme Court is looking at a ruling by a lower court from the summer, which found cannabis extracts were not legal. So, that case is about a specific patient, a man named Rodney Jones, who was arrested and sentenced to prison for possession of cannabis oil. So, he's already out of prison by now. But his lawyer is trying to overturn his conviction. And the premises that you don't need to change the law because it already protects patients. That's what, you know, his lawyer would contend. But this legislation could be looked at as, say, insurance. If the Supreme Court actually upholds the lower court ruling, which was against extracts. One thing that stands out is the legislation isn't retroactive that's being pushed by Rivera. So anyone who's been arrested prior to the law if it does pass going into effect, you know, wouldn't reap the benefits of that protection. That's just one thing I noticed, and doesn't necessarily mean that all the issues that have occurred up till now would somehow be remedied by this legislative fix.

GILGER: Right. OK. All right. Either way though, the Supreme Court will be hearing this next month.

STONE: Yep, oral arguments are set for March 19.

GILGER: All right. And I'm sure we'll hear more from you on this case. KJZZ's Will Stone. Thanks so much.

STONE: Thanks, Lauren.

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