PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona's medical marijuana law is not pre-empted by federal drug laws because it does not stop the federal government from enforcing its laws, a Superior Court judge ruled.
Maricopa County Court Judge Michael Gordon ruled Tuesday that "the mere state authorization of a very limited amount of federally proscribed conduct, under a tight regulatory scheme, provides no meaningful obstacle to federal enforcement."
Arizona voters approved Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, in November 2010. It decriminalizes medical marijuana for people with medical conditions such as cancer and chronic pain, and allows patients to buy medical marijuana from dispensaries or to cultivate their own under certain conditions.
Gordon ruled after White Mountain Health Center sued Maricopa County and the Arizona Department of Health Services in June, after it was unable to obtain documentation that its proposed site for a dispensary in Sun City met zoning requirements.
The Arizona law furthers the Controlled Substances Act's "objectives in combating drug abuse and the illegitimate trafficking of controlled substances," Gordon wrote.
"The Arizona statute requires a physician to review a patient's medical circumstances prior to authorization of its use. The statute also provides the ADHS with full regulatory authority. The ADHS, in turn, has exercised that authority with appropriate care to ensure that licensed dispensaries operate only within the confines of the AMMA. The detailed regulations ensure the marijuana is used for medical purposes only."
The medical marijuana law "did not remove Arizona's categorical prohibition of marijuana for recreational use or any use other than medical use," and the Controlled Substances Act "remains intact and unlawful possession and sale remain felonies that carry with them the possibility of long prison terms," the ruling states.
Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a statement: "This decision upholds the will of Arizona voters when they approved a law to allow patients who suffer from serious medical conditions safe and reliable access to their medicine.
"Dispensaries like White Mountain Health Center will fill a crucial need for patients suffering from such illnesses as HIV, cancer, glaucoma, and agitation of Alzheimer's disease who have not responded to other medication."
Maricopa County's claim that its employees must "necessarily commit the federal crime of aiding and abetting the possession and sale of marijuana" in complying with the state law fails, Gordon found.
County employees "have no interest in whether the dispensary opens, operates, succeeds or fails" and "are wholly unconnected to and separate from the person(s) or entity that will purportedly be completing the substantive offense," Gordon wrote.
Arizona's first medicinal marijuana dispensary, Arizona Organix, was expected to open in Glendale today.