(Updates with comment from governor’s office starting in fourth paragraph.)
Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. judge dismissed a lawsuit asking the court to decide whether Arizona could carry out its medical-marijuana law without subjecting state workers to federal charges.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer claimed the voter-approved measure contradicted federal law and put state employees, who are charged with approving medical-marijuana dispensaries, at risk of prosecution. Her administration refused to approve dispensary applications pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
In her ruling yesterday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix said the state failed to establish a “genuine threat of imminent prosecution.”
Bolton gave the state 30 days to amend and refile the complaint. Brewer hasn’t decided whether she will renew the case, her spokesman, Matthew Benson, said. Benson called the ruling a “tremendous disappointment.”
“What the federal court has essentially said is that it won’t hear the state’s lawsuit until we have an employee who is either prosecuted or notified that they face imminent prosecution for their part in facilitating Proposition 203,” Benson said in a telephone interview, referring to the ballot initiative that legalized medical marijuana. “That is an untenable position for any state employee.”
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said in an e-mail that the agency wouldn’t comment on the ruling.
Arizona and 15 other states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes in violation of federal law. Brewer filed her lawsuit against the federal government and would-be dispensary operators after U.S. attorneys in other states said state employees wouldn’t be immune from federal prosecution. The suit asked the court to decide whether federal law nullifies the state statute or if the Arizona measure protects state workers from federal prosecution.
Arizona’s law, approved in November 2010 by a margin of fewer than 5,000 votes, created a system of dispensaries to be regulated by the state health department and capped at 125 statewide. Patients are barred from growing their own marijuana if they live within 25 miles of a dispensary.
Grow Your Own
Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne, who both publicly opposed the measure, filed the lawsuit five days before the state was set to begin accepting applications from would-be dispensary operators in May. The move opened the door for patients and caregivers to grow their own marijuana. So far, the state has approved 18,000 medical marijuana patients, of which 15,000 are allowed to grow their own pot, according to the Health Services Department website.
Joe Yuhas of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association said voters wanted a regulated dispensary system and never intended to have thousands of patients growing their own pot. His organization of would-be clinic operators will consider suing in state court if Brewer’s administration doesn’t move forward with the dispensaries, he said.
“We would hope that our state leaders will now recognize it is time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars in an effort to thwart the will of the voters and move ahead with full implementation of the initiative,” Yuhas said in a telephone interview.
The case is State of Arizona v. U.S., 11-cv-1072, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
--Editors: Mark Schoifet, Andrew Dunn
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