Two months ago, Arizona governor Jan Brewer filed a lawsuit asking for an official verdict regarding whether or not the state’s medical marijuana law is legal. On Monday, Federal attorneys asked a judge to throw the suit out, claiming there was no legal basis for it.
In his written request, filed in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, Deputy U.S. Attorney Scott Risner said that unless there was an actual threat of prosecution under federal drug laws, the Arizona governor’s question is “purely academic” and therefore doesn’t warrant judicial review.
Arizona state Attorney General Tom Horne, the person who filed the May lawsuit on Governor Brewer’s behalf disagrees with Risner, and and further maintains that Risner isn’t being entirely accurate.
At the heart of the argument is the decision made last year by Arizona voters to create a system allowing patients with a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued ID card to buy their medical marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. Since election day, however, several federal prosecutors, among them Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, warned that both possession and sale of medical marijuana are illegal under federal law. Governor Brewer then directed Horne to get a ruling on her state’s MMJ program from the federal courts.
Meanwhile, and also at Governor Brewer’s direction, the Arizona state health department has decided not to license any MMJ dispensaries, though individual patients are still being certified to use the drug.
According to Risner, there is no basis for Horne’s suit because there are no state employees involved in the MMJ program who are facing prosecution.
Horne, however, says that’s not entirely true, pointing out that in their letters to officials in MMJ-friendly states around the country, federal prosecutors have stated that individual users have nothing to fear. Horne feels, however, that what the letters do not say is where the threat lies.
Speaking on this issue, he explained, “They gave no assurance to state employees, they gave no assurance to dispensaries. And they said they were going to vigorously prosecute anyone who is involved in the distribution of marijuana.What unbelievable hypocrites!”
Horne also argued against Risner’s statement that state health workers are not at risk since they’re not actually accepting or processing dispensary applications at this time, complaining, “We asked for the court decision and we said we’ll hold it up until there is a court decision.” He also referred to the Department of Justice’s position that by putting a licensing program on hold the state is now not entitled to a ruling on the issue that caused the hold is mere, “sophistry.”
But the Department of Justice is not the only entity trying to have Governor Brewster’s lawsuit dismissed. Also working toward this goal are the ACLU and those who would apply to operate dispensaries if they could.
Judge Bolton has not yet set a hearing date on the issue.