Judge rules that setting marijuana fees not the court’s job

Medical marijuana users lost in court to have fees reduced.

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Medical marijuana users lost in court to have fees reduced.

PHOENIX – A judge has rebuffed efforts by medical marijuana users to force the state to reduce the fees it charges patients.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry said does not dispute that the Department of Health Services is collecting more from medical marijuana users than it needs to administer the program.

In fact, documents obtained by Capitol Media Services show that just this fiscal year, which began in June, the agency has taken in more than $19.9 million. By contrast, expenses in the same period total less than $7.8 million.

And the balance in the fund, which rolls over from year to year, now exceeds $31.5 million.

But Gentry the only thing spelled out in the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act is that the health department must collect sufficient fees to cover the costs of the program. There is nothing in the law that prohibits it from taking in more than needed.

More to the point, the judge said the lawsuit essentially asks her to reset the fees at a more reasonable level. And that, Gentry said, is something that courts are in no position to do.

Attorney Sean Berberian said he intends to appeal.

“Arizona’s voters passed the AMMA to give legal access to medicine, not to create unnecessary financial hurdles to obtaining it,’’ he said. Berberian said the fees, which can range up to $150 a year for patients and $200 for caregivers who help patients, amount to “unnecessary and unlawful barriers’’ for patients to get marijuana that doctors have recommended to them.

The 2010 law allows individuals with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

It also set up a network of state-regulated dispensaries to sell the drug.