Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
The Arizona Bar Association recently announced that Arizona lawyers may not be able to assist would-be clients who have a legal problem related to the state’s new medical marijuana law.
Patricia Sallen, ethics counsel for the Arizona Bar Association, said that Arizona lawyers are not allowed to help clients break the law.
Since medical marijuana is now legal in Arizona and since the federal government said it would not prosecute marijuana cases in states where medical marijuana is legal, what’s the big deal? From the NY Daily News:
Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued Monday by the Obama administration.
Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.
The big deal, according to Sallen, is that even though the new law allows patients with a doctor’s recommendation are allowed to buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 2 weeks, marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law.
Sallen said that [illegality of marijuana possession at the federal level] could keep attorneys from helping Arizona corporations set up a dispensary. And it also could mean no help going to court for any company that believes it was unfairly or unlawfully denied a dispensary license — or even for an individual who claims to be entitled to a medical marijuana card.
This disconnect between state and federal law could leave medical marijuana patients, caregivers, and business owners who want to dispense or grow medical marijuana in the lurch for legal assistance. Sallen says she is basing her preliminary opinion on a similar situation in the state of Maine. OK, that’s Maine’s opinion, but what about the 14 other states and the District of Columbia? They also have medical marijuana laws. What is their stance?
In my opinion, this is just another legal roadblock in Arizona’s medical marijuana saga. Arizona voters passed medical marijuana twice before, but the Arizona Legislature stopped implementation. This year, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall vehemently (and some say inappropriately) campaigned (1, 2) against medical marijuana before the 2010 election. After Prop 203 passed, she and her minons heavily lobbied the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the Tucson City Council for highly restrictive zoning laws. In the end, neither body adopted all of LaWall’s recommendations, but the county now has more restrictive zoning for dispensaries and growing operations than the city does.
So, let’s focus here– there are 4 different levels of laws governing medical marijuana– federal, state, county, and city– and citizens who want to benefit from this new industry and businesses that want to participate in its creation can’t hire a lawyer in Arizona? What sense does that make?
It only makes sense if you are part of the legal establishment that has benefited from prohibition and you want to set this industry up for failure– or at least inhibit growth– by denying legal counsel.
Given this paranoia by local legal officials, it’s no surprise that the state bar association has tossed out yet another barrier to progress.
UPDATE: Check out this link for the update on this story.