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Arizona Supreme Court Blocks County Attorney From Interfering With Medical Cannabis Law

Maricopa county attorney Bill Montgomery has fought a crusade against legal medical marijuana ever since it was legalized.

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The Arizona Supreme Court has blocked a county attorney's attempt to interfere with the state's medical marijuana laws, hopefully bringing a five-year legal battle between Maricopa county and a local dispensary to an end. In 2012, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery advised his county's Board of Supervisors to deny local canna-business White Mountain Health approval to open a dispensary in their county. The attorney argued that the county had the right to ignore state law because marijuana is still prohibited by the federal government.

White Mountain Health sued Maricopa county over the right to open their dispensary. Montgomery said at the time that he hoped that the county would win the lawsuit, creating a precedent that would block any medical marijuana establishments from opening in the state. The plan backfired, however, when Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon ruled for White Mountain in December of 2012, calling Montgomery's plan a “transparent attempt” to interfere with state law.

White Mountain was allowed to open their dispensary, and more than 100 other dispensaries have opened across the state. Montgomery was undeterred by his loss in court, and appealed the case to the state Court of Appeals, who rejected the appeal last December in a 3-0 decision. Montgomery then brought the case to the state Supreme Court, who denied his petition to review the case this week.

Now that the state Supreme Court has denied his appeal, Montgomery's attempts to pursue the case within the state have been exhausted. Hover, the attorney may take the case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. "We are hopeful that this is the end of a long and tortured story, but we'll find out," said Steve White, one of White Mountain's attorneys.

"The resources expended on the taxpayer's dime between the county and the state and the eventual attorneys' fees probably approaches $1 million," White said. White Mountain would have had to spend as much as $400,000 on legal fees themselves, but the ACLU generously offered their legal support to the dispensary. “We’re pleased that the Arizona Supreme Court is not going to disrupt the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and we hope the county will stop trying to prevent seriously ill Arizonans from accessing medicine that eases their suffering,” ACLU staff attorney Emma Andersson said.

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