Pubdate: Tue, 31 Jul 2012
Source: Daily Courier (Prescott, AZ)
Copyright: 2012 Prescott Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Joanna Dodder Nellans


With a lottery for the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries 
looming just a week away, most of the county attorneys in Arizona 
have signed onto Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk's letter asking 
the governor to put a halt to dispensaries as well as user cards.

"We believe it is bad public policy for one arm of the government to 
facilitate marijuana cultivation and use while another arm of the 
government is moving to close it down," Polk's July 24 letter to Gov. 
Jan Brewer said. A dozen other county attorneys signed on to the 
letter on short notice, she said.

Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher is drafting a similar letter to 
the governor, his spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said, and most of 
Arizona's sheriffs already have signed off on it. Mascher is head of 
Arizona Sheriff's Association.

Gov. Jan Brewer responded to Polk on July 26 that she is moving 
forward with the Aug. 7 lottery to choose dispensaries.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has made it clear that it considers 
dispensaries illegal, said Polk and law enforcement consultant 
Anthony Coulson of Tucson, who retired in 2010 from his position as 
assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Agency's Tucson District Office.

"I have been told that the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the 
District of Arizona, John Leonardo, fully intends to prevent any 
dispensaries from operating in Arizona by seizing each and every one 
as it opens and commits violations of the CSA (Controlled Substances 
Act)," Polk wrote to the governor.

Polk said she got that information from Coulson, who said he had 
talked to Leonardo. While he doesn't know exactly what Leonardo will 
do, he said he knows Department of Justice policy.

"The Department of Justice position has been not to let these 
dispensaries operate," Coulson said. "Landlords will be at risk of 
having properties seized."

He anticipates that federal officials will notify property owners 
that the dispensaries are illegal before raiding them.

Gov. Brewer responded to Polk's letter that "the federal government's 
position remains unclear" after her efforts to get the U.S. 
Attorney's Office to clarify its position were unsuccessful.

While she doesn't support the legalization of medical marijuana, the 
voters made it law in 2010, Brewer wrote.

"As such, I am duty-bound to implement the AMMA (Arizona Medical 
Marijuana Act), and my agency will do so unless and until I am 
instructed otherwise by the courts or notified that state employees 
face imminent risk of prosecution due to their duties in 
administering this law," Brewer wrote.

Bill Solomon, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, 
would not respond directly to questions but issued a statement saying 
Polk's representation of the U.S. Attorney's position is inaccurate. 
The office's position has not changed since former U.S. Attorney for 
Arizona Ann Scheel wrote a letter to the governor about it, Solomon said.

"This USAO will continue to vigorously enforce the Controlled 
Substances Act against individuals and entities that operate and 
facilitate large marijuana production facilities and marijuana 
production facilities involved in the cultivation, sale and 
distribution of marijuana, even if purportedly for medical purposes," 
Scheel's February letter stated.

U.S. Attorneys in other states have issued similar letters saying 
state laws don't make large-scale marijuana growing and selling 
illegal, although they generally won't go after medical marijuana cardholders.

Scheel's letter also said state employees would not be immune from 
liability. Coulson said he wouldn't be surprised to see people whose 
property is seized by federal officials file federal lawsuits against 
state officials who license dispensaries.

Other states see raids

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now have legalized 
medical marijuana, and the federal government has raided some 
dispensaries in California and Washington.

The governors of Washington and Rhode Island have petitioned the 
federal government to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II instead 
of a Schedule I drug, so it can have medical uses under federal law.

Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington vetoed a bill to clarify 
dispensary rules last year after the Justice Department said state 
employees would not be immune from liability. And Gov. Lincoln Chafee 
of Rhode Island wouldn't proceed with authorizing dispensaries last 
year because federal officials warned him that they could prosecute 

"What we have out here is chaos," Gregoire told The New York Times in 
a November article.

Voters in Oregon, Colorado and Washington will face ballot measures 
this fall to legalize marijuana completely.

Arizona voters narrowly approved medical marijuana in November 2010, 
and individuals were able to start getting user and grower cards in 
April 2011. While the state has delayed approval of dispensaries 
during its effort to get clarification of the federal position on the 
law, cardholders have been able to grow their own marijuana.

Fifty-four businesses and individuals have applied for the eight 
medical marijuana dispensary licenses that will be issued in Yavapai 
County. Statewide, 484 companies and people applied for 126 
dispensary licenses. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) 
plans to randomly pick the dispensaries that get licenses during an 
Aug. 7 drawing.

At some point, state-approved dispensaries will need municipal or 
county approval to open, such as a certificate of occupancy.

"My advice would be for county employees not to have anything to do 
with this program," Polk said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom