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Posted Jan 13, 2012, 10:40 am
Rolling up the idea of suing the federal government over Arizona's medical marijuana laws, Gov. Jan Brewer said Friday she is directing the state health department to begin processing applications for dispensaries.
A suit filed by Brewer was dismissed by a judge on Wednesday. The complaint, filed in May, sought clarification on whether state employees involved in licensing medical marijuana dispensaries could face federal prosecution.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that state officials faced no threat, and threw out the suit.
"Plaintiffs have not shown that any action against state employees in this state is imminent or even threatened," Bolton wrote. She gave the state the option to refile with more evidence.
Brewer said Friday that the state will not refile the suit.
"Instead, I have directed the Arizona Department of Health Services to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications, and issuing licenses for those facilities once a pending legal challenge to the Department's medical marijuana rules is resolved," Brewer said in a press release.
"I also have sent a letter to Ann Birmingham Scheel, Acting U.S. Attorney for Arizona, notifying her of the State's action at this time and – once again – seeking assurance and clarification as to the federal government's position regarding State employee participation in the licensing or regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries," Brewer said.
Arizona voters passed a medical marijuana law in November 2010. The law allows a qualifying person with a doctor's recommendation to receive 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from licensed dispensaries. Qualifying conditions would include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and chronic pain.
Patients who don't live near a licensed dispensary can grow their own marijuana under the law.
"It is well-known that I did not support passage of Proposition 203, and I remain concerned about potential abuses of the law. But the State's legal challenge was based on my legitimate concern that state employees may find themselves at risk of federal prosecution for their role in administering dispensary licenses under this law," the governor said.
"Know this: I won't hesitate to halt State involvement in the AMMA if I receive indication that State employees face prosecution due to their duties in administering this law," she said.
The 2010 proposition was the fourth time in 15 years that a medical pot measure has been put to voters. Arizonans approved medical marijuana twice before, but neither took effect because of problems in the wording of the measures.
Arizona's first medical marijuana law was approved in 1996, but tossed out by the Legislature.
A second initiative was approved in 1998, but language allowing doctors to "prescribe" pot instead of "recommend" it essentially invalidated the law. Doctors who prescribed marijuana would have their ability to write any prescriptions taken away, said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
A 2002 measure that would allow doctors to recommend, instead of prescribe marijuana, was defeated. It would have decriminalized pot possession for everyone, with the fine for having 2 ounces set at $250. It also would have compelled the state to supply patients with marijuana from drugs seized by law enforcement.
14 other states and the District of Columbia now have some form of medical marijuana laws.