Arizona Judge Rules Medical Cannabis Extracts Are Illegal
The ruling is due to an old state law that defines cannabis as a different substance than marijuana.
Published on October 25, 2017

Medical cannabis dispensaries in Arizona may have to pull vapes, edibles, and other non-flower-based cannabis products off their shelves after a local judge ruled that such products are not covered under the state's MMJ laws. The most recent of these rulings was delivered this month, in the case of a Navajo County man who was charged with narcotics possession over a few grams of cannabis resin that he legally purchased at an Arizona dispensary.

Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson based his reasoning for these rulings on the state's 1950s-era criminal code on pot, which curiously defines cannabis and marijuana as two different substances. The law qualifies marijuana as the plant in its traditional form, but also cannabis as the resin extracted from marijuana. This resin is officially considered a “narcotic” in Arizona, and its use is punishable by greater felony penalties than traditional marijuana use.

"After review of the statues the court finds that the [Arizona Medical Marijuana Act] (AMMA) does not include cannabis," Nielson wrote. "The court reads that AMMA language of 'any mixture or preparation thereof' as making reference to the dried flowers of the plant and as such, without further definition, or information that cannabis can be extracted from a 'dried flower,' the court cannot find that this would include cannabis."

The inaccuracy of Arizona marijuana laws have been interfering with the state's medical marijuana program for years. In 2013, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery charged a family with criminal possession of a narcotic over CBD oil they legally purchased at a dispensary to treat their epileptic child. With help from the ACLU of Arizona, the family sued the county for their right to continue using the medicine. In 2014, Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper ruled that the AMMA "authorizes qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil, prepared from the marijuana plant."

The precedent was only set for Maricopa County, however, and anti-cannabis prosecutors around the state are still using the loophole to interfere with state-legal medical cannabis users. The cannabis law was also used against Jake Ruether, a man who was arrested and charged with narcotics possession after police found THC oil and wax dabs that he had legally purchased at a dispensary. Judge Nielson ruled against Ruether in this most recent case, again repeating the reasoning that the AMMA did not allow the possession of “cannabis.”

Ruether's case will advance to the Arizona Court of Appeals, and from there could be further appealed to the state's Supreme Court, which would set a statewide precedent either for or against legal medical cannabis extracts. Gary Smith of the Arizona Cannabis Bar Association told the Phoenix New Times that he will assist with Ruether's case and believes that Judge Nielson “just plain got it wrong.” Fortunately, the state's higher courts have consistently ruled in favor of the voter-approved medical cannabis law, so the chances of ending the state's confusion over cannabis are good.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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