Arizona Prosecutors Council Backs Criminalization Of Popular Medical Marijuana Products

By Will Stone
Published: Friday, February 15, 2019 - 8:08am
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2019 - 11:49am

medical marijuana crop
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Medical marijuana is still being debated in Arizona.

A council representing 900 Arizona prosecutors has asked the state Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling that criminalizes a popular form of medical marijuana.

Next month, justices will hear from both sides in the long-running court battle over whether the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act permits cannabis extracts.

Extracts go into vape pens, edibles and other products sold at dispensaries.

The Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council argues that permitting cannabis extracts “mangles the science of marijuana” and “would have a deleterious effect on public policy in Arizona.”

“The potential for addiction and abuse is greater with separated marijuana resin than marijuana plant material because of its higher concentration of THC,” the brief, filed with the court on Thursday, states.

It’s a significant show of support for Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk’s argument that card-holders who possess cannabis extracts can be charged under the criminal code — pre-dating the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act — which considers extracts — called “hashish” — a felony. 

The prosecutors' council describes its primary mission as coordinating and providing training and education for prosecutors in the state.

Members of the council include Arizona’s 15 county attorneys, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and top attorneys from cities like Phoenix and Tucson.

“A group of prosecutors are attempting to educate the court on the science of marijuana,” said Jared Keenan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Every day, people get prescribed clearly addictive medications, which have their purposes.” he said. “That’s really beside the point — patients should be able to access medicine in any form that best suits their needs.”

The brief cites one expert witness, Todd Griffith, the former Director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory.

In his declaration, Griffith discusses “numerous incidents” where ingesting marijuana edibles led to “adverse reactions including psychotic breaks with resulting injury and death.” 

"... Patients should be able to access medicine in any form that best suits their needs."
— Jared Keenan, American Civil Liberties Union attorney

Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Arizona Dispensaries Association and the former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Will Humble, are among those who’ve filed briefs with the court maintaining that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act does immunize cannabis extracts for qualifying patients.

The executive director of the prosecutors' council declined to comment on their position in the case, citing “ethical rule parameters.”

But one hint could be the council’s chair — Sheila Polk.

Polk’s office is responsible for bringing the case against medical marijuana card-holder Rodney Jones, who was arrested in Yavapai County and sentenced to prison for possession of cannabis oil.

Over the summer, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Jones’ conviction — which came as a surprise to many in the medical marijuana industry who considered Polk’s view an outlier.

The Arizona Department of Health Services regulates medical marijuana dispensaries and products containing cannabis extracts.

It’s unclear exactly why the prosecutors' council decided to take such a firm stance on the controversial case.

The council is a public body and hasn’t released the minutes from its January meeting when the amicus brief was brought up for a possible vote.

The agenda indicates the decision came from the council’s executive committee, which includes only eight members of the council, among them Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich — the state’s top law enforcement official — was not on the executive committee and has signaled reservations about the case.

Last year, Brnovich took the unusual step of withdrawing his office’s arguments against cannabis extracts and declined to defend the state’s position in front of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Polk’s office is arguing the case, instead.

What the court decides could reverberate across Arizona and affect many of the state's more than 180,000 medical marijuana card-holders. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The previous version of this story had Jared Keenan's last name misspelled. His last name is corrected.

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