Act allows medical marijuana use, but it's easy to run afoul of the rules
12/5/2012 6:00:00 AM
By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Medical marijuana cardholders and dispensary owners might want to double and triple check Arizona's Medical Marijuana Act, because those who don't follow the rules aren't getting any breaks from local law enforcement.
"What we're finding is that (marijuana cardholders) are going way over the number of plants they're allowed to grow and marijuana they're allowed to have," said Sheriff Tom Sheahan.
The law allows someone with a medical marijuana card to carry 2.5 ounces of the plant in their pocket. It also allows people who have the card and are authorized by the Arizona Department of Health Services to grow up to 12 plants for their own use.
Any more than that and the person could get arrested, said Kingman Police Capt. Rusty Cooper. And no, the department does not subtract 2.5 ounces or 12 plants from total amount of marijuana you get arrested with.
Sheahan said it's been a big problem with his office, although he didn't provide hard numbers documenting the number of cases.
"It's been very difficult to deal with and the law is being abused, tremendously abused. As we knew would happen," he said. "It's nothing more than the first step to legalization.
"One of the excuses we've gotten for having too many plants or too much product is that the person was going donate to a doctor. But doctors can't dispense the drug without a dispensary license and we don't have any dispensaries in the area yet. Another excuse we've gotten is that the person is growing additional plants to sell to other cardholders, and you can't do that."
He's also concerned about marijuana getting into the hands of juveniles, who will share it with their friends.
Deputies are also running into a number of out-of-state motorists with marijuana cards who are transporting large quantities of the drug. Each state has its own limit on how much a person can carry, but most of these out-of-state people who are stopped are carrying much more than any legal limit, Sheahan said.
He also reminded people that there is still a federal law against possession, sale or cultivation of marijuana, although his office hasn't heard from the federal government about its plans for Arizona.
Sgt. Jamie Clark from MAGNET said his organization has had six cases that led to arrests in the last year of people who were not quite meeting the standards of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
"We really haven't had too much of an issue with it," he said. "We had two cases were someone exceeded the maximum amount of allowable on them, three cases were someone had exceeded the number of plants allowed and one case where a facility was not properly secured."
Most of the cases MAGNET has run into involve people who just aren't aware of the limits of the law, Clark said.
"It's just education. People have to be educated about the law," he said.
Cooper said his department has run into similar problems. His department has had between six and 10 cases in the last year dealing with medical marijuana, he said. In a lot of the cases, people just weren't aware of the limits.
Added Cooper, "There are lot of things that have to be in place before someone can legally grow marijuana. If you don't meet the requirements, you are not protected by the law and can get arrested."
The best place to get information on the law is the ADHS website, www.azdhs.gov, Clark said.
An arrest can also led to action by the Arizona Department of Health Services. A person can be fined and lose their medical marijuana card or their dispensary license.
According to a recent report from ADHS, one patient and six caregiver cards have been revoked in the last year.
According to ADHS, 33,601 people in the state have medical marijuana cards and 27,794 of those are authorized to grow. In Mohave County, 484 people in Kingman have cards Lake Havasu City has 545 and Bullhead City has 353.
The department also approved 99 dispensary permits in August.