Hear Me Out: Should medical marijuana winners be prosecuted?

PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.

Don't worry, you always have the opportunity to make comments at the bottom of the page. Yeah, your opinion matters, too.

This week we're tackling the debate on whether or not winners of the Arizona Department of Health Services Medical Marijuana Lottery should be prosecuted.

Sunny Singh, Chief Operations Officer & Owner of weGrow Phoenix, says winners should not be prosecuted because it would continue to delay a potentially lucrative program that's already been stalled.

Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, says while his office has never advocated prosecuting winners, dispensary operators could face prosecution for several reasons.

Click "next page" to read the first of two positions, "Winners should not be prosecuted because it would continue to stall the program ".

Winners should not be prosecuted because it would continue to stall the program ": By Sunny Singh, Chief Operations Officer & Owner of weGrow Phoenix

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Program has gone through a number of obstacles to get where it is today.  The State of Arizona has developed one of the best dispensary models in the nation.  The State's Department of Health has applied specific zoning regulations for all dispensary sites to be located away from schools, churches, and homes. The State has also developed an application process for applicants who would be able to appropriately operate a dispensary from a medical and business perspective.  These applicants have spent significant amounts of time, money, and energy to see the positive outcome of this process.  

The people of Arizona voted in favor of the Medical Marijuana Program. The Program has been stalled by government officials who are personally against the program or who have another agenda.  If these dispensary applicant winners are to be prosecuted, this would prolong the program even further. The State needs to consider all of the time and resources spent to create a program that would be properly regulated by State officials.  

According to a variety of reports, state and local governments in Arizona owe more than $66.5 billion in outstanding debt and unfunded obligations. Further delays would only mean the State will be losing out on millions of tax dollars that could help reduce some of this debt. Not to mention the potential job growth that and potential growth for the local economy overall.  These dispensary applicant winners would not only stimulate the economy by opening dispensaries, but also provide safe access to the medicine needed by the thousands of Arizona Medical Marijuana Patients.  The State must treat marijuana as a medicinal product, therefore allow for it to be taxed and regulated. There is absolutely no reason why the winners of the Medical Marijuana Lottery should be prosecuted.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

Click "next page" to read the second position, "  Why dispensary operators should be open to prosecution " .

"Why dispensary operators should be open to prosecution": By Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney

The question, as posed, is based on a false premise, as there is no legal basis for prosecuting anyone simply for winning the DHS lottery, nor has this ever been a position advocated by my Office. 

The real question is whether anyone who opens and operates a dispensary in Maricopa County could be subject to prosecution, and the answer is yes for the following reasons:

1) Acting on the legal advice provided by my Office, Maricopa County is not issuing the necessary zoning certification to dispensary owners which would allow them to obtain a state license to operate.  Without this necessary county approval, dispensary operators who open for business are also violating the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).

2) More importantly, regardless of whether a dispensary obtains an operating permit, they are in violation of state law prohibiting the possession, use, production, sale or transportation of marijuana (ARS § 13-3405).  Such cases will be reviewed for prosecution by the County Attorney's Office.

3) Notwithstanding the first point above, the AMMA is in direct conflict with federal law, specifically the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana.  Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as the Supremacy Clause, holds that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and state law.  Acknowledging the legitimacy of the federal Supremacy Clause is not, as some have claimed, an attempt to enforce federal law.  It is a recognition of the impact our federal Constitution has on our ability to enforce state laws.

4) Dispensaries that have opened in other states have proven to be magnets for other serious crimes because they provide ready access to two things that many criminals seek: cash and drugs. 

5) At the very least, would-be dispensary operators should wait until a court rules on the issue of the federal preemption of state law.  I anticipate this will occur in relatively short order in the pending lawsuit filed by White Mountain Health Center against Maricopa County.

6) Finally, dispensary owners should recognize the threat of federal prosecution is very real.  Prosecution policies change from one administration to the next, and with a Presidential election less than 90 days away, we may be looking at a very different set of priorities from the U.S. Department of Justice when there is a change in administrations.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

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