If you’re one of the 170,000 medical cannabis patients in Arizona, you may be confused about the legal status of concentrates right now. That’s okay. We all are.
Here’s the problem: Arizona’s medical marijuana law, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), conflicts with the state’s original 1973 law prohibiting marijuana. It’s an arcane technical problem that involves different definitions of “marijuana” and “cannabis,” and which word more appropriately describes today’s wide variety of concentrates (everything from vape pen cartridges to tinctures, rosin, bubble hash, wax, shatter, et al).
A state appeals court last week ruled that these concentrates are not protected by the AMMA. But that’s not the final word on the matter. The ruling will be appealed, and this week lawyers across Arizona are preparing legal arguments to present to the Arizona State Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court accepts the case, the appeal process will most likely take the better part of a year.
In the meantime, many Arizona dispensaries have vowed to continue providing concentrate products to their patients.
If you’re one of those patients, what can you do? What should you do? Here are a few places to start.
- Express your concern by contacting your local state legislator and telling your story—let them know how important your medicine is to your health and quality of life.
- Pam Powers-Hannley (D-Pima) will take up the issue in the next legislative session. Call her office to discuss ways you can help her advance the legislation necessary to correct this grievous error.
- At your local level, contact the mayor, city council members, and local law enforcement officials. Call for their commitment to not prosecute concentrates cases.
- Breathe in, breathe out, don’t act the fool, don’t turn on each other in the panic. Believe you are on the right side of history, medicine, and ultimately the law, no matter what legal misreading we are currently dealing with.
If You’re in the Industry
If you work in the industry, you have already heard rumors that the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) is saying they are not making sudden changes, and will inform everyone if they revise their rules. That is true. It’s important to remember that DHS created and enforces the existing rules on medical cannabis concentrates. Technically it could be considered entrapment if they should try to arrest you for following the law. As long as you are operating compliantly, you should be safe. (Please note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I am but one voice of experience, and results may vary.)
If You’re a Patient
If you are a patient, remember that it is your choice to consume medical cannabis. Despite various state-level protections, it is still against federal law. You are making a conscious choice to break federal law each time you shop or possess.
The decision to use or not use concentrates is, again, your choice. Some dispensaries are withdrawing their concentrate products for the time being until the legal situation is clearer. But they have not been ordered to do so, and until DHS announces otherwise, some will continue to manufacture and sell these products.
Many patients (pediatric patients, for example) must have concentrates and it would be hazardous for them if they had no legal outlet. This risk is similar to violating federal law, and it is a choice each patient or parent must make.
If you choose to continue using concentrate products, here are the reminders we at AZ-NORML give:
Be aware of your surroundings when consuming.
Even though 94% of Americans support the concept of medical marijuana, only about 10% of the population actually consume cannabis. It provokes strong feelings, both positive and negative. While it is your right to consume cannabis as medical patient, it is also important that you respect the rights of others around you and recognize their potential prejudice against it. Some will assume you’re consuming irresponsibly—they don’t know that you may rely on medical cannabis to maintain your health.
Practice discretion. Even with a medical card, it is illegal to “smoke” in public, while driving, or on government property. Vaping, while less obvious, is also a risky choice. The words “in public” essentially mean anywhere outside a private residence or private club.
If you must consume cannabis outside your personal property, be aware of others around you.
Do not consume cannabis in your car.
This is the most important step you can take to protect yourself from police. Impaired driving is a national concern. No matter what the research says about cannabis and driving—see Leafly’s helpful dive into the research here—smoking and operating a motor vehicle (car, plane, or boat) is strictly illegal in every state. Just say “No.” Just say “It can wait.”
Smoking cannabis in a car, even cautiously, will in time permanently create a “weed smell,” and vaping is more obvious than you might think, especially in city traffic. In either case, law enforcement can use the odor of cannabis or the sight of a vape cloud as probable cause for a lengthy, stressful roadside search and possible arrest.
If you are stopped by police, it is critical that your vehicle does not invite further scrutiny. Throw away any empty cannabis containers and cannabis-related materials. Keep paraphernalia tucked away (out of sight) at all times. When returning from a dispensary, keep your purchases in the original, sealed dispensary bag. Do not even remove the staple until you get to your destination.
When traveling, keep your cannabis in its original dispensary packaging and inside an inaccessible container, such as a suitcase or computer bag in the back seat. The safest place to put your cannabis while traveling is in the trunk.
The idea is to reassure the police that you have not been consuming in the car. Remember, even when traveling between states where cannabis is protected, it is federally illegal to transport cannabis across state lines. While your medical marijuana card can be part of an affirmative defense in other medical states, it provides no protection in states without a medical program. As always, do not travel in Arizona with more than your 2.5-ounce legal limit of flower.
Conduct yourself with caution around police.
Many of the cannabis cases we see occur because of the way some patients conduct themselves during a traffic stop. Remember, law enforcement responds to politeness. They also respond to nervous, deceptive, or defiant behavior.
If you are stopped, address the officer respectfully. Pay attention to their requests, but do not risk incriminating yourself by volunteering more information than requested.
Remember to limit what you say to the minimum necessary to answer their questions. If you are asked about marijuana, volunteer your medical card—but again, do not over-volunteer unnecessary information. Even with a medical card, you may be asked to show the officers your cannabis so they can confirm you are not traveling with more than your allowed amount.
Provide only what is asked, and do not talk about cannabis more than is required. Do not rush the police or appear impatient or worried, but after you have provided the information they asked for, you can ask, “Officer, am I free to go?”
Remember, Help Is Available
Arizona cannabis patients have support from two great organizations that are committed to helping you if you are arrested or charged.
Arizona-NORML is the clearinghouse for all marijuana issues. They can refer you to lawyers in your area and give you an idea of what you can expect. Their hotline number is 928-234-5633. The state director is Mikel Weisser (that’s me), and you can reach me directly at email@example.com.
The Arizona Cannabis Bar Association is an organization of attorneys devoted to cannabis law. The association email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Their president is Gary Smith. His office number is 602-888-9969.