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Arizona's Latest Court Case Has Cannabis Dispensaries Nervous

By Jacqueline Havelka
Jul 26, 2018

Arizona has had one of the longer-standing medical marijuana (MMJ) policies. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but voters have rejected recreational use twice. It would seem that since Arizona has had nearly a decade to work out its trials and tribulations surrounding medical cannabis, that the state would have no remaining issues.

However, High Times has reported that an Arizona appeals court just ruled that the state’s law, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), does not protect cannabis extracts. A 2013 case involving the arrest of a registered MMJ patient, Rodney Jones, was the basis for the ruling. Jones was in possession of hashish at the time of his arrest. In his original trial, the court ruled at the time that the AMMA law did not protect cannabis extracts, and that included hash and hash oil. Jones was subsequently convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.

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The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld that conviction, ruling that hash is illegal under criminal law in the state, and the AMMA does not explicitly call out legalization of that particular extract. The court, therefore, ruled that Jones’ original conviction should stand.

The appeals court judges state that AMMA should not be used to “immunize” people who are in possession of hash and other substances still deemed illegal under Arizona law. The judges’ ruling stated that AMMA covers explicitly the use of a mixture or preparation from the marijuana plant only.

Many Arizona dispensaries say that the ruling has muddied the waters. These dispensaries sell many products, including marijuana for vaping and even edibles that are made from hash oil and other cannabis extracts. They’re now left wondering if what they’re selling is legal.

Other dispensary owners are concerned that the ruling will have farther-reaching tentacles and that they might not be able to continue providing their patients with certain medicines. For example, the Moroso Medical Clinic in Tucson, Arizona, stated that many of their patients prefer extracts because they get the medical benefits of cannabis without having to smoke it. If these patients don’t have access to the extracts, they will be forced to using smoking as the form of intake.

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Clinic owner Dr. Heather Moroso says that her youngest patient is eight months old, and had 40 seizures per day until the extracts began to work. “Our oldest patient is 97. She came in just a couple months ago and told us she quit all her narcotics and morphine.” Instead, the lady eats two pieces of edible chocolate each day. Moroso wonders what patients like her will do if the Arizona government takes the ruling further and bans all extracts.

Moroso says that cannabis plant extracts allow for different and healthier delivery methods, and are a great alternative to smoking for patients who prefer not to smoke or who shouldn’t use smoke as a form of delivery due to their medical conditions.

Extracts are a general class of MMJ that includes oils and edibles. “You’re not going to have a child who’s having seizures smoking a joint. I mean it’s ridiculous,” Moroso says.

So far, Arizona dispensaries have not been impacted, and all current extract products remain on the shelves. But many dispensary owners like Moroso are concerned about how the Arizona Department of Health Services will interpret the appeals court ruling.  The department has stated that they are in the process of reviewing the appeals court decision with their legal counsel to determine whether any rule changes are necessary.

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