Brewer, Horne sue over medical marijuana
Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne will ask a federal court to determine if Arizona's new medical marijuana law is legal, they announced Tuesday.
The two said court action is needed to determine if the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act violates federal law.
The state will seek a declaratory judgment regarding the measure, Brewer said.
"Arizonans deserve clarity on an issue with such dire legal implications," Brewer said.
State authorities have already begun issuing medical marijuana cards to patients who receive a doctor's recommendation, a process that will continue under Arizona's law.
Horne plans to file suit Friday, the attorney general said. The state won't take a position on whether a judge should order the feds not to interfere with the law, in contrast to Arizona's vigorous defense of the SB 1070 immigration law.
The federal government has given conflicting signals regarding medical marijuana.
While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that the feds do not plan to prosecute patients and providers who grow, possess and use pot under state medical marijuana laws.
Complicating the situation in Arizona is the vast trade in marijuana smuggled through the state. Federal officials have said they do not plan to decrease enforcement operations against marijuana.
The U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, warned in a May 2 letter to the state health department that "growing, distributing and possessing marijuana, in any capacity, other than as a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that purport to permit such activities."
The feds will "vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law," Burke said.
"For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it’s important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution," Brewer said.
Medical marijuana also may threaten federal grants to the state Department of Public Safety, Brewer said.
Voters narrowly approved Proposition 203 in last November's election, making Arizona the 15th state to approve medical marijuana.
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.
Arizona voters approved medical marijuana use in 1996, but the measure never took effect because it would have required a doctor's prescription, which is illegal under the federal law. Proposition 203 requires a doctor's recommendation, which would have the same weight as a prescription but only on a state level.