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AZ Prosecutor Convicts Legal Marijuana Patients on Drug Charges

Some Arizonans who carry a legal medical marijuana card have been arrested on drug charges over their use of processed marijuana products. (Twenty20)
Some Arizonans who carry a legal medical marijuana card have been arrested on drug charges over their use of processed marijuana products. (Twenty20)
March 11, 2019

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — A technical glitch in Arizona's medical marijuana law is landing some card-carrying cannabis patients in jail. But a proposed new law could address that pitfall.

Law enforcement officials in Yavapai County have arrested and convicted at least two people carrying state-issued medical marijuana cards on drug charges. Both were arrested for possessing a derivative of marijuana - not the plant itself, but still classified as cannabis.

An appeal of one of the convictions is pending before the state Supreme Court. But Analise Ortiz, campaign communications strategist with the ACLU of Arizona, said a bill pending in the state Legislature would resolve this legal technicality.

"Yavapai County Attorney Shelia Polk has continued to stand by these prosecutions, so people are still at risk of arrest and prosecution,” Ortiz said. “This bill proposes amending that definition, so that there is no distinction between marijuana and cannabis."

Ortiz explained the prosecutor is interpreting the current law as allowing the medical use of marijuana in its plant form, but not products made from it, which are classified as illegal cannabis. She said Yavapai County, a mostly rural area between Phoenix and Flagstaff, is the only jurisdiction in the state that, so far, has prosecuted medical marijuana patients under felony narcotics laws.

Ortiz added Polk was an outspoken opponent of medical marijuana when the measure was put on the ballot through a citizen's initiative.

"We believe that when the voters passed the Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, that they intended for patients to be able to use this medicine in the form that's most helpful to them and the easiest for them to consume,” she said. “And so, we believe that needs to be corrected."

Of the two people charged, one was convicted and is serving a three-year sentence, while charges are pending against the other. If convicted, that person could face up-to 10 years in jail.

The bill, HB 2149, has passed out of committee and is pending in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ