PHOENIX, AZ — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) said Friday she would no longer block medical marijuana dispensaries from opening in the state. The news came in a statement announcing that the state would not try again after a lawsuit she filed blocking implementation was dismissed in federal court earlier this month.
Brewer said she will direct the state health department to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications once a separate legal challenge over state regulations is settled. The pending state court lawsuit was filed on behalf of Compassion First, a group formed to advise those opening dispensaries, which has challenged restrictive health department rules restricting who can operate a dispensary.
“The State of Arizona will not re-file in federal court a lawsuit that sought clarification that State employees would not be subject to federal criminal prosecution simply for implementing the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA),” Brewer said in the statement.
“Instead, I have directed the Arizona Department of Health Services to begin accepting and processing dispensary applications, and issuing licenses for those facilities once a pending legal challenge to the Department’s medical marijuana rules is resolved.”
Brewer also sent a letter to Ann Birmingham Scheel, acting US Attorney for Arizona, seeking clarification of the federal government’s position regarding state employees who participate in regulating dispensaries. Brewer had tried and failed to gain that same clarification in her lawsuit.
“It is well-known that I did not support passage of Proposition 203, and I remain concerned about potential abuses of the law,” Brewer said. “But the state’s legal challenge was based on my legitimate concern that state employees may find themselves at risk of federal prosecution for their role in administering dispensary licenses under this law.”
Now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, implementing the dispensary provision of the law is “the best course of action,” Brewer said.
“The State of Arizona was fully implementing the provisions of Proposition 203 last spring,” Brewer said. “That’s when Arizona was among a host of states that received letters from the U.S. Department of Justice threatening potential legal ramifications for any individual participating in a medical marijuana program, even in states where it had been legally approved,” she reminded.
“Would state employees at the Department of Health Services, charged with administering and licensing marijuana dispensaries, face federal prosecution? This was the basis for calling a ‘time out’ in order for the State to seek a straightforward answer from the court. With our request for clarification rebuffed on procedural grounds by the federal court, I believe the best course of action now is to complete the implementation of Proposition 203 in accordance with the law.”
But Brewer warned that she would shut things down in a hurry if it appeared state employees were really going to be prosecuted for their role in regulating the program.
“Know this: I won’t hesitate to halt State involvement in the AMMA if I receive indication that State employees face prosecution due to their duties in administering this law,” she said.