ACLU seeks OK of pot dispensary licensing
PHOENIX — The American Civil Liberties Union is asking a judge to rebuff efforts by Attorney General Tom Horne to block state licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries.
In legal papers filed Thursday, attorneys for the group want Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon to rule that Arizona is constitutionally entitled to determine what it does and does not want to make a crime.
They acknowledged the federal Controlled Substances Act makes possession, sale and transportation of marijuana a felony. But they told Gordon that none of that criminalizes the activities of state and local employees in processing the paperwork for everything from licenses to zoning permits, the reason Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery contend that part — if not all — of the state law is void.
Edward Ezekiel, the lead ACLU attorney in the case, also argues that Arizona has a Tenth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution to make its own drug laws — or in this case, allow some people to possess marijuana — despite Congress making it a federal crime.
Alessandra Soler, state director of the ACLU, said her organization believes the bid by the prosecutors to halt implementation of the state law has nothing to do with their concerns about conflicts with federal statutes. “We think that Horne and Montgomery are doing this because they're trying to advance their own personal, political agenda.”
Horne, in turn, took his own shot. “I think that the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union, which was founded to fight political suppression ... would turn over in their graves if they knew what the ACLU is doing now is protecting pot smoking.''
The 2010 voter-approved law allows those with a doctor's recommendation to get a state-issued card allowing them to obtain up to 2-1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Until now, users have been able to grow their own drugs or trade with others. But the law envisions 126 dispensaries scattered throughout the state authorized to grow and sell to cardholders.
While the Department of Health Services has awarded about 100 permits — some areas have no applicants — it has yet to conduct a final inspection of any site, a necessary precursor to opening its doors.
Horne and Montgomery want to stop that from happening. And they are doing it through a lawsuit filed by White Mountain Health Center over its bid to open a dispensary in the unincorporated community of Sun City.
A hearing before Gordon is set for Oct. 19.