Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wrong On Appeal, Not On Length Of Dispensary Limbo

In a January 5, 2012 post, Arizoneout predicted that the state would appeal the dismissal of its lawsuit against the U.S. Government, and that the status of the 126 dispensaries that voters authorized when they passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) would remain in limbo for many months.

As it turns out, Arizoneout was wrong about the appeal.  Last Friday, which happened to be a Friday the Thirteenth and the eve of a three-day holiday weekend, Governor Jan Brewer issued a press release announcing that the state was not going to refile in federal district court, and that she had directed the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications.

“With our request for clarification rebuffed on procedural grounds by the federal court, I believe the best course of action now is to complete the implementation of Proposition 203 in accordance with the law,” Governor Brewer said in the statement.

ADHS Director Will Humble posted notice of the Governor’s decision on his blog.  But Humble’s post made it clear that full implementation of the dispensary system created by the AMMA still was full of uncertainty and was many months away, even under the best case scenario.

Step one according to Humble is setting up a new timetable for dispensary applications, a rulemaking process that itself will take so much time that the earliest ADHS will begin taking applications is sometime this summer!

But Humble sent a strong signal that other litigation may delay the process further.  Humble referred to another pending lawsuit that challenges the scope and constitutionality of ADHS’ medical marijuana rules, stating that it “complicates” the process.  Only if that lawsuit is withdrawn or settled could ADHS start taking dispensary applications this summer, Humble says.  So best case, the dispensaries would be in place a full year after Arizona voters anticipated they would be.

That best case scenario is unlikely to present itself, however, as Compassion First AZ, the organization prosecuting the suit, has announced that it does not plan to drop the case.

For her part, Governor Brewer does not promise a hands-off approach going forward.  She concluded her press release with this warning:  “Know this:  I won’t hesitate to halt State involvement in the AMMA if I receive indication that State employees face prosecution due to their duties in administering this law.”

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