Does the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) violate federal law? This is something Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has instructed Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to find out by filing a suit against the US Justice Department and other defendants. The federal judge is asked to rule on whether strict adherence with Arizona state law provides protection from federal prosecution, or whether federal law pre-empts the Arizona measure.
Governor Brewer said:
"For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it's important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution. As explained in a recent letter from the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, the federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. Arizonans deserve clarity on an issue with such dire legal implications."
The Arizona Department of Health Services received a letter dated May 2, 2011, from US Attorney Dennis Burke which warned that marijuana is still a Schedule I Controlled substance. This means possessing, growing and distributing marijuana is illegal, unless it is done under a federally authorized research program - regardless of what state laws might say. Up until receiving this letter the Arizona Department of Health Services had been implementing voter-approved AMMA provisions.
Dennis Burke wrote:
"(his office would) vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law."
In a communiqué, the Governor's office explained that the US Attorney letter:
".. raises significant questions about the legality of both the AMMA and related Arizona Administrative Code provisions."
The Governor said she is especially concerned about what might happen to state employees who diligently administer the AMMA. Would they be subject to federal prosecution if a federal prosecutor decided that their activities were against federal law?
The US Attorney's letter also insinuated that federal grants awarded to the Arizona Department of Public Safety might have to be withdrawn.
The Governor wants to know whether AMMA violates federal law. If it does, then AMMA is invalid.
Governor Brewer said:
"The State of Arizona has worked to follow the wishes of voters. But I won't stand aside while state employees and average Arizonans acting in good faith are unwittingly put at risk. In light of the explicit warnings on this issue offered by Arizona's U.S. Attorney, as well as many other federal prosecutors, clarity and judicial direction are in order."
Written by Christian Nordqvist