AZ: Maricopa County Seeks Quick Ruling On Medical Marijuana Law

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    Howard Fischer | 1.26.2013

    PHOENIX - Hoping for a speedy conclusion, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery on Friday asked the Arizona Supreme Court to immediately hear his challenge to the state medical marijuana law.

    In a brief submitted to the high court Friday, Montgomery complained his bid to overturn a lower court ruling upholding the law is proceeding too slowly at the Court of Appeals, on an issue where quick resolution is needed.

    "The issue presented - whether the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act is preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act - is an important issue of statewide impact," Montgomery wrote.

    Montgomery's suit focuses on blocking a proposed dispensary in Sun City. But any court ruling could apply to all 126 dispensaries authorize under the 2010 voter-approved law, including the six that have already opened - three in Tucson and one each in Glendale, Bisbee and Williams, which could be forced to shut down.

    Montgomery, however, contends if the Supreme Court accepts his legal arguments it would wipe out the entire Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, prohibiting not just the opening of dispensaries to distribute marijuana, but also invalidating the nearly 36,000 cards already issued to authorized medical marijuana users.

    Jeffrey Kaufman, attorney for the White Mountain Health Center which is at the heart of the dispute, said Friday he has no problem having the case expedited.

    The 2010 initiative allows those with a doctor's recommendation to get a card from the state health department allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks, which they could buy from state regulated, privately run dispensaries.

    This dispute flared when Maricopa County, on Montgomery's advice, refused to verify White Mountain's proposed dispensary location in Sun City was properly zoned. Montgomery said responding to the request would make county officials guilty of violating federal laws which still prohibit facilitating the possession and sale of marijuana.

    Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon ruled against Montgomery last month and ordered the county to provide the required zoning information.

    In seeking to overturn Gordon's ruling, Montgomery said he is not limiting his arguments to dispensaries because the state medical marijuana law "is in direct violation of federal law."

    "The way the Controlled Substances Act is written means states can't authorize prohibited conduct," he said. In order for the court to rule on whether county officials are facilitating the violation of federal law by providing zoning certification will force means the justices to address the entire question of federal preemption, he said.

    But Dan Pochoda of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, pointed out the facts before Gordon, which is what the appeal is over, were limited to whether the county would be in violation of federal laws by providing the zoning information. He said the Supreme Court may limit any decision strictly to that issue.
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