PHOENIX — Attorneys for a Yavapai County resident are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court decision that makes criminals out of medical marijuana patients who choose to use edibles and liquids rather than smoking the plant’s dried flowers and leaves.
In new filings, the lawyers contend the state Court of Appeals got it wrong earlier this year when it concluded in a 2-1 ruling that a 2010 voter-approved law that legalized the medical use of marijuana does not cover products made from hashish and other extracts of the plant. The majority concluded that hashish, essentially the resin of the cannabis plant and the products made from the resin, are legally not the same as the plant itself and its possession remains a crime, even for medical marijuana users..
What the high court decides will most immediately affect more than the conviction of Rodney Jones, a registered medical marijuana patient, after he was found in possession of a jar containing 0.05 of an ounce of hashish. He was sentenced to 2½ years on the drug possession charge and another year, to be served concurrently, on a charge of possessing drug paraphernalia, the jar.
Jones, given credit for a year he was jailed while awaiting trial, has been released but is hoping to have his conviction overturned.
But the larger question is whether patients will still be able to obtain alternate forms of marijuana that the state Department of Health Services has for years allowed to be sold through state-regulated dispensaries. These range from candy bars and gummy bears to oils that can be administered to children who have been recommended medical marijuana by a doctor.
“A lot of people are frightened by what it means to them in terms of their ability to access the medications they need,” said Robert Mandel, one of Jones’ lawyers.
“There are many people who literally cannot be smoking joints ... and cannot be eating the raw plant material, but who benefit from preparations and mixtures,” he said. “I would certainly as a human being be very disappointed to learn that they were unable to access the medications they need.”
The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows those with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain up to 2½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks from a state-regulated dispensary. At last count, there were more than 174,000 people who qualify.
Mandel said state health officials have concluded that means not just plants, but products made from the plants — and, more specifically, from the psychoactive resin. In fact, Mandel said, Jones obtained his drugs from a dispensary in Maricopa County.
In a ruling last year, a divided appellate court concluded that the 2010 law legalized only possession of the plant. The majority decided that hashish is legally not the same as the plant itself, even though it comes from the plant.
Mandel said that ignores common sense — and the whole reason for the medical marijuana law in the first place.
“I’m not a botanist,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is that what is medicinal in the plant is the resin.”
And the way patients get the medical benefits of marijuana, Mandel said, is to consume that resin. The only argument, he said, is how patients get that resin in the first place.