Arizona Governor Defends Medical Marijuana Program

Thirteen Arizona county prosecutors are urging Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) to shut down the state’s medical marijuana facilities, which are allowed to seek permits under a 2010 state law, because medical marijuana is not permitted under federal law. Although public support for medical marijuana is currently at an all-time high, the Department of Justice continues to clash with states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes — most notably in California, where the DOJ has targeted legal medical marijuana shops in an attempt to shut them down. However, Brewer will continue to implement her state’s law regardless of its split with federal policy.

The county attorneys signed onto the three-page letter written by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to express concern that Arizona’s medical marijuana dispensaries will be targeted by the DOJ in the same way that California’s have. Because the federal government is “vigorously enforcing the Controlled Substance Act by seizing and closing medical marijuana dispensaries in other states,” Polk wrote, the attorneys are concerned about Arizona business owners opening marijuana shops only to be hit with federal fines.

Brewer responded with her own letter, explaining that while she understands the concerns about legalizing marijuana trade for medicinal purposes, Arizona has the right to follow its own state law rather than bending to pressure from the DOJ:

BREWER: As previously noted, I did not support the passage of [the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act], and I share your concern regarding [the] implementation of the AMMA. Arizona voters, however, cast ballots in sufficient numbers to enshrine this measure into Arizona law. As such, I am duty-bound to implement the AMMA, and my agency will do so unless and until I am instructed otherwise by the courts or notified that State employees face imminent risk of prosecution due to their duties in administering this law.

Some lawmakers are working to address the disparity between federal law and state laws. A bipartisan group of Congress members introduced legislation to bridge the gap earlier this month, proposing a law that would allow individuals who are using marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with their state’s laws to better defend themselves against federal law. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also recently suggested that House Democrats may take up federal medical marijuana legislation after the upcoming election, noting that it is “really important” to make changes to the current federal law against medical marijuana to “prevent the federal government from acting to harm the safe access to medicinal marijuana provided under state law.”

In addition to Arizona, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have also legalized medical marijuana.