PHOENIX – The Arizona Supreme Court will decide whether the extracts of marijuana used to make edible products now sold to patients at state-licensed dispensaries are legal.
In a brief order Tuesday the justices said they want to hear arguments by attorneys for Rodney Jones about why his 2013 conviction for possession of illegal drugs and 2 1/2-year prison term is contrary to state law.
Robert Mandel, one of Jones’ lawyers, pointed out his client is a medical marijuana patient, entitled by the 2010 voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. Jones had a jar containing 0.05 ounces of hashish, a resin made from the plant.
In a divided ruling last year, the state Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. The majority said the law that legalized marijuana for medical purposes allows patients to possess only forms of the plant itself – flowers, leaves and seeds – and not the resin, or anything made from that.
But Mandel, in asking the high court to review the conviction, said this is about more than his client.
He pointed out the state Department of Health Services has for years allowed – and even regulated – the sale of alternate forms of marijuana through state-regulated dispensaries. These range from candy and gummy bears to oils that can be administered to children who have been recommended medical marijuana by a doctor for issues like seizures.
In fact Will Humble, who was state health director when voters approved the law, even filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court saying the rules he crafted, in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, always considered that the statute allowed for alternate forms of the drug. And he dismissed the contention by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whose office prosecuted Jones, that hashish is legally different than other marijuana extracts now used to make edibles.
In both cases, he said, it’s a preparation.
“It started with the marijuana flower and ended up with hashish,” Humble said.
The issue of the state having given its blessing to the sale of edibles prepared from extracts eventually resulted in Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office normally would handle the appeal to the Supreme Court, backing out of trying to get the Supreme Court to uphold Jones’ conviction. Instead, he has taken the position that the justices should review the issue to provide some guidance.
That left defending the conviction to Polk, who wants the justices to uphold both the rulings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals.
Polk did not immediately return a call to her office for comment.
Brnovich aide Ryan Anderson said his boss is happy the justices have agreed to take up the case and decide whether her prosecution of Jones was correct.
“There’s enough uncertainty as to whether or not extracts are covered by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act,” he said. “Hopefully the Supreme Court can provide some clarity, not only for patients but for law enforcement moving forward.”
No date has been set for a hearing.
Hanging in the balance is what will be allowable going forward under the 2010 law that allows those with a doctor’s recommendation to purchase marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. At last count there were nearly 184,000 Arizonans who qualify.