Pubdate: Mon, 14 Dec 2015
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2015 The Arizona Republic
Author: Kaila White


An Arizona State University student is asking an appeals court to 
overturn the law that makes it illegal for him to have 
physician-recommended medical marijuana in his dorm room.

Andre Maestas, 20, an ASU junior and medical-marijuana cardholder, 
was arrested in 2014 and charged with a felony for having 0.6 grams 
of weed in his room on campus, roughly the equivalent of one joint.

He is the first to challenge a 2012 statute banning medical marijuana 
on state university campuses, which the Legislature passed two years 
after Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize medical 

The statute makes it a class 6 felony to possess marijuana on a 
college campus, even if it's medically recommended. Class 6 felonies 
can be reduced to Class 1 misdemeanors, which occurred in Maestas' 
case. He was found guilty in October after a year-and-a-half legal 
battle and sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation, a $750 
fine and 24 hours of community service.

Arizona is the only state where a medical-marijuana patient can be 
charged with a felony in a situation like Maestas', according to 
marijuana-advocacy lawyers and activists.

"It's not really fair to subject people who are using something out 
of necessity to this kind of punishment," Maestas said after a judge 
sentenced him.

Why this is punishable in Arizona

Use and possession of marijuana - medicinal or not - is banned on 
every public college campus in the country, with punishment ranging 
from drug-education classes to expulsion.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and schools must comply 
with federal law in order to receive federal grants and funding.

Most schools have interpreted the federal laws to mean they must ban 
marijuana under school policy, but in Arizona, lawmakers took it one 
step further.

Arizona's medical-marijuana program was created in 2010, and it 
prohibited possession or use of medical marijuana on elementary, 
middle and high-school campuses.

In 2012, then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill modifying the law by 
prohibiting medical marijuana's use or possession on public 
university and college campuses, affecting students as well as 
parents, professors, employees and visitors.

Many university officials supported the change, which some viewed as 
a necessary precaution to secure the hundreds of millions of dollars 
in federal funding that Arizona's colleges and universities receive every year.

Supporters included lobbyists for ASU, Northern Arizona University, 
the Arizona Board of Regents and the Arizona Community College 
Coordinating Council, according to public records.

Now, use or possession of medical marijuana on campus is prosecuted 
as a felony because of Arizona's tough drug laws, which are among the 
strictest in the nation.

Arizona is the only state where possession of any amount of marijuana 
in any location is punishable by felony, even on the first offense, 
according to

Maestas' story

It was 12:38 a.m. on March 18, 2014, when an ASU police officer found 
Maestas sitting in the middle of the road at Forest Avenue and Lemon 
Street on ASU's Tempe campus, according to court documents. The 
intersection is near ASU Gammage, and near where Maestas lived in Best Hall.

The officer arrested Maestas, who was a freshman at the time, for 
obstructing a public thoroughfare. The officer also searched Maestas 
and found a medical-marijuana card in his wallet.

Maestas was, and still is, a medical-marijuana patient. He uses it 
for back pain related to misaligned vertebrae.

During questioning, Maestas told the officer he had marijuana in his 
dorm, according to records. The officer obtained a search warrant for 
his room and found marijuana and paraphernalia including two pipes 
and a grinder, court records show.

Maestas was charged with a class 3 misdemeanor for blocking the road 
and a class 6 felony for drug possession, which would not have been 
punishable by jail time since Maestas was a first-time, nonviolent offender.

Soon after, Maestas began working with Tom Dean, a defense lawyer who 
has worked marijuana cases in Arizona for 15 years, who argues that 
Maestas and many students at the time were unaware of the campus ban. 
The state eventually dropped the drug charge to a class 1 misdemeanor.

Maestas also faced disciplinary action from ASU. He had to move dorms 
into a room alone and take drug-education classes, Maestas said, "but 
nothing I would consider super serious."

Although the situation happened by chance - had Maestas not been 
arrested for sitting in the road, an officer would not have found his 
card - his lawyer said he doesn't think there was any police wrongdoing.

The 'what ifs'

In all other 23 states and Washington, D.C., that have legalized 
medical marijuana, Maestas could have faced only disciplinary action 
from the school.

If his medical marijuana had been stored off campus, Maestas would 
have been allowed by law to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, or 
118 times more than he had.

If Maestas had been found guilty of the class 6 felony, he would have 
lost his financial aid and faced expulsion, and likely would not have 
continued college, he said.

ASU does not have a solution for its card-holding students and 
employees, instead emphasizing in a written statement that "Arizona's 
medical marijuana law also prohibits marijuana on campus." In 
comparison, University of Colorado in Boulder lets card-holding 
freshmen break housing and dining contracts without financial penalty 
so they may move off campus.

As of Dec. 11, ASU police have made 187 arrests involving possession 
of marijuana charges in 2015, according to crime logs. In 2014, they 
made 158 possession-of-marijuana arrests, 149 in 2013 and 149 and 
2012. Records do not clarify whether anyone arrested was a 
medical-marijuana patient.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in an e-mail that such 
solutions aren't necessary.

"If someone is healthy enough to be attending college on a regular 
basis, there are more than enough legal medical alternatives that 
would allow them to successfully treat their condition and remain on 
campus without breaking the law," he said.

Fighting to overturn the statute

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery supports the campus-ban 
statute. (Photo: LDH Consulting)

Prosecutors initially offered Maestas the chance to do a six-month 
treatment and drug-testing program known as TASC instead of facing 
trial, but he declined so he could challenge the charges.

"I'm just trying to do what's right for medical-marijuana patients," 
he said. "Nobody should be restricted access to higher education just 
because they happen to use a specific type of medication for whatever 
ailment they have."

Maestas and his lawyer filed a Notice of Appeal in October in hopes 
that, within a year, the Court of Appeals, which has accepted the 
case, will overturn the law on the grounds that it's unconstitutional.

They argue that the 2012 change was illegal under the 1998 Voter 
Protection Act, which prevents the Legislature or governor from 
changing laws created by voter initiative unless the new law 
"furthers the purpose of" the original.

The 2012 modification, they argue, contradicts the Arizona Medical 
Marijuana Act's explicit purpose, which is defined as "to protect 
patients with debilitating medical conditions, as well as their 
physicians and providers, from arrest and prosecution, criminal and 
other penalties and property forfeiture if such patients engage in 
the medical use of marijuana."

Supporters such as then-Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix, who sponsored 
the "campus-ban" legislation, argued the ban is a logical extension 
of the 2010 law because it already prohibited use near schools.

Montgomery, the county attorney, said, "Just as drugs and school 
don't mix at the elementary and high-school level, they don't mix 
well with education at the college level. This underscores again what 
happens when special-interest groups manipulate our initiative 
process and pass something that's poorly written, ill-conceived and 
inconsistent with federal law."

What happens next

Maestas, who now lives in Scottsdale, is focused on school, the 
appeal and his duties as secretary for the ASU chapter of Students 
for Sensible Drug Policy, a student-led organization working to end 
the war on drugs.

Dean expects that, after briefs and arguments, the Court of Appeals 
will issue its decision in late spring or summer of 2016.

In the meantime, Maestas is allowed to use medical marijuana while on 
probation after an Arizona Supreme Court ruling in April, but he will 
not be allowed to drink alcohol when he turns 21 in May.

Currently, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is 
gathering signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. It would 
establish a network of licensed cannabis shops where the recreational 
sales of the drug would be taxed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom