Arizona officials said a new federal memo they reviewed Friday on possible medical marijuana-related criminal prosecutions leaves unanswered questions as to whether state-licensed dispensaries and state employees who administer a fledgling medical marijuana program are at risk of prosecution.
Like a similar memo issued by the Justice Department in 2009, the new document said users of marijuana for medical purposes and individuals who provide care to other individuals shouldn’t be prosecution priorities. However, significant drug trafficking “remains a core priority” and commercial dispensaries and growers “and those who knowingly facilitate such activities” would still be violating federal drug laws regardless of state law, it said.
Expressing disappointment and frustration, Attorney General Tom Horne said Friday that memo states there’s no shield from prosecution for those who “knowingly facilitate” marijuana commercial cultivation and distribution even if purportedly complying with state laws on medical marijuana.
“The federal government knew there was broad concern about whether ‘facilitate’ sale was a term that could endanger state employees,” Horne said.
That means Arizona will continue to press the lawsuit it filed May 27 against the federal government and other parties.
The state’s suit asked a judge to rule on whether Arizona can implement its medical marijuana law despite the apparent conflict with federal law.
While Gov. Jan Brewer and Horne expressed concern that state employees could face legal jeopardy, a League of Arizona Cities and Towns official said Friday he doesn’t see any impact on cities or their workers.
“Cities are not engaged in any level of commerce regarding marijuana,” said Ken Strobeck, the league’s executive director. “They are simply complying with state law regarding local zoning regulations should someone set up a dispensary in their city or town” under the state’s medical marijuana law and state regulations to implement it.
Ryan Hurley, an attorney for would-be dispensary operators, said the department’s stance is consistent both with the 2009 department memo and recent letters from U.S. attorneys.
Hurley said prospective dispensary operators remain at risk of federal prosecution. However, patients and individual caregivers apparently still won’t be prosecution targets, he said.
On June 14, prospective dispensary operators filed two lawsuits challenging the state’s decision to not accept dispensary applications. One of those cases has been dismissed by an appellate court, but it can be refiled with a trial court.