A recent ruling by an Arizona appeals court determined that medical marijuana patients could still be arrested and prosecuted due to conflicting interpretations of various state laws on marijuana use. The case of Arizona vs. Jones offers insight into how a lack of cogent state and national policy create larger challenges for medical marijuana patients and the industry as a whole.
Earlier this summer, an Arizona Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Rodney Jones—a registered medical marijuana patient, for the possession of a narcotic drug and drug paraphernalia. Jones was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for possessing .05 ounces of hashish, and a concurrent one-year term for drug paraphernalia —the jar holding the hashish. The court rejected his appeal on the grounds that hashish isn’t mentioned or included by name in a voter-approved pot initiative that was passed in 2010.
The decision relied heavily on a separate, earlier Arizona law that makes it illegal to possess “cannabis, a narcotic drug,” defined as resin extracted from marijuana. The judge who wrote the court’s majority opinion claims that the 2010 medical marijuana law does not include extracted resin, leading the court to rely on the earlier statute. “By not specifically including extracted resin within its description of immunized marijuana, (the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) adopts the ‘preexisting law distinguishing between cannabis and marijuana,'” wrote Judge Jon. W. Thompson.
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), point out that many edibles are made not with the full plant but with the resin. More than 40 percent of Arizona’s medical cannabis sales come from concentrates and infused products, according to figures cited in Marijuana Business Daily. Thus if possession of resin in any form is a felony, then everything from cookies and candies to drinks and oils are potentially illegal. By limiting the forms of marijuana that can be used for medical purposes, this ruling has the potential to undercut the central purpose of the medical marijuana act: to offer relief to suffering patients. Unless the Jones ruling is overturned or stayed, the 2010 medical marijuana act will not fully protect patients from criminal prosecution, thus potentially inhibiting their access to medicines necessary for their health and well being.
This case is indicative of the notable disconnect between various competing policies at the state level, and offers a glimpse into the broader national challenges around medicinal marijuana. It highlights the pressing need to address the lack of clarity in existing laws and ensure that there is cohesive policy on marijuana use. This is necessary so that the end user—the individual who may be suffering and often isn’t in a position to undertake a legal battle with national implications—isn’t penalized for the lack of clarity. Leaders in the field and the community as a whole can take a more proactive role in advocating for our industry and our clientele—protecting registered patients from prosecution, and making sure the public will is reflected in state and national law.