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Tue, March 19

Editorial: Unclear laws leave medical pot in haze

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer doesn't have the best track record with her appeals to federal courts (see: immigration), but she has a point on this latest one.

Brewer's lawsuit regarding the legality of potential state medical marijuana dispensaries was dismissed on Wednesday, further delaying full implementation of the initiative Arizona voters passed in November. The lawsuit contended, with legitimate concern, that potential Arizona dispensaries - and state employees - may be in violation of federal pot laws despite the medical applications. The U.S. District Court saw no such cause and dismissed the suit, but the dismissal also means that Brewer can re-file within 30 days.

Arizona voters have gone back and forth on this literally for years. Voters have thrice passed initiatives relating to medical marijuana since 1996 when, by a 65-percent margin, medical marijuana use was passed only to have the Legislature overturn it. That in turn sparked voters two years later to approve another initiative that prevents the Legislature from overturning voter-approved initiatives and referendums. And you know about our vote in November.

Arizona became the 15th state, along with the District of Columbia, to have passed a medical marijuana law since 1996. The Arizona law allows patients with "debilitating medical conditions" to use cannabis if they have a physician's recommendation.

So far, the state has in fact issued thousands of qualified patient cards to individual marijuana users, and versions of those cards allow people to possess medical pot and to grow their own.

Dispensaries that sell it are something else.

Facts of the clinical applications of medical marijuana are uncontroversial. The U.S. Department of Justice ruled that while nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects, "marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality." A 2009 CBS News probe confirmed that in a period studied from 1997-2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported zero deaths caused by the primary use of marijuana, and in fact that common FDA-approved drugs often prescribed in lieu of marijuana were the primary cause of more than 10,000 deaths.

Arizona voters are acutely aware of these realities.

Until the feds establish in clear and legal terms that dispensaries are free from federal selling laws, patients in the most need will still struggle to legally obtain their medicine in a system that could, Arizona contends, put those willing and able to sell the medicine at risk of federal laws. Medical dispensaries and even medical marijuana growers in other states continue to grapple with federal raids.

Until such time, the federal-versus-state laws on selling will be tossed around in court fattening up lawyers, politicians will take stands, and Arizona voters and card-carrying patients will question the relevance of unsuccessful ballot initiative processes.


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