BY CHRIS WEATHERALL, KIND MEDS AND ACM STAFF
Since the passage of Arizona’s medical marijuana laws in 2010, patients have had a host of misconceptions about the use of medical marijuana in the state. Arizona’s laws are stricter than those in surrounding states that allow recreational consumption of marijuana, so it’s important to debunk some of the misconceptions and get to the real information surrounding these laws. Don’t let the common misconceptions about marijuana laws in Arizona fool you. Pay attention to the law, not the rumors.
Who Qualifies for Medical Marijuana in Arizona?
According to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act of 2010, potential Arizona medical marijuana patients must apply for a permit through the Arizona Department of Health Services after having their medical records reviewed by a doctor to be recommended for medical cannabis. If the patient is under 18, a parent must apply. Recognized conditions that allow for the use of medical marijuana include:
- Chronic Pain
- Muscle Spasms
Potential cardholders must prove a medical diagnosis of one of the approved conditions to be considered for a medical card. A majority of patients have two or more conditions. It’s worth noting that in 2017 alone, Arizona approved over 90,000 new medical marijuana card applications. The vast majority of qualifying patients use cannabis for chronic pain. (Like Tylenol without the liver damage). The AMMA program now includes more than 186,000 patients.
What Are the Current Medical Marijuana Regulations?
Those who qualify for an Arizona medical marijuana card may purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or marijuana products in any fourteen-day period. The only limit on the amount purchased per day, is that the total amount in two weeks may not exceed 2.5 ounces. Concentrated cannabis products are regulated by the amount of raw cannabis used to make the concentrate in the product. If a cardholder can prove they live over 25 miles from the nearest dispensary, they may cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use.
There are additional rules for cultivating patients as well – each patient must be approved for an Arizona cultivating patient designation. In addition, the plants must remain in a locked area only accessible by the cultivator and the cardholder.
What About Other Arizona Marijuana Laws?
Other than authorized medical marijuana users, no other person in the state of Arizona may smoke or consume marijuana in any of its forms. In addition, only cardholders may possess marijuana in any of its forms. The least serious marijuana-related offense, for possession of a speck of kief up to 2 pounds is still a Class 6 felony, punishable by a minimum of six months in prison and $1,000 fine. The maximum penalty for this offense extends to one year in prison.
Possession of even the tiniest amount of a cannabis concentrate is currently considered a class four narcotics felony for non-patients. The issue of concentrates and AMMA patients is currently being battled in the courts and at the Capitol. Arizona MMJ patients need to understand in many parts of the state, law enforcement has arrested dozens of the patients who thought they were law abiding, only to find themselves facing felony charges.
Lastly, patients should understand they are only allowed to share MMJ products with other card-holding patients. Providing cannabis to unauthorized users is considered trafficking. Even small amounts can lead to prison time and massive fines. Even worse, patients who violate any provision of the AMMA (such as possessing more than their allotted 2.5 ounces) can lose all their AMMA protections and be charged for each individual possession of products or paraphernalia.
Patients have been charged for empty pipes, dead batteries and charged separately for an 1/8th ounce of cannabis AND the baggie it was in. One patient found violating the AMMA weight limit received an additional 32 counts of felony distributing for each sack in a partial box of sandwich bags in his trunk. Patients caught growing without cultivation rights can be charged with manufacturing with intent to distribute.
Can You Be Fired for Possessing Medical Marijuana Legally?
The answer depends on your situation. You can be fired for being under the influence of or possessing marijuana at work. However, an employer cannot fire you because you possess a medical marijuana card, or because you test positive for prior marijuana use and hold a medical marijuana card. Taking any sort of adverse action in response to a positive test or upon learning you have a medical card is illegal. This AMMA protection was just upheld at the State Supreme Court this February.
Is the Smell of Marijuana Enough for Police to Search Your Property or Person?
Yes. Arizona courts upheld the right of police to search for marijuana if they notice the odor of marijuana in 2016. However, if the police have reason to suspect your marijuana use is legal due to the AMMA laws, their search may lose its legal basis.
Will Your Name Be Made Public If You Have A Medical Marijuana Card?
No. All registration information is confidential. Your employer cannot access it without access to your card or registration number. Further, law enforcement cannot access the registry without your registration number.
Can You Own A Gun While A Medical Marijuana Card Holder?
The answer is a little murky. Officially, federal law prohibits marijuana users from owning firearms, just as federal law prohibits any sort of marijuana use, including medical. In fact, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) issued instructions to gun dealers prohibiting them from selling to marijuana users. However, Arizona law does not prohibit these sales, and, to our knowledge, nobody has ever been denied a firearm purchase in Arizona due to holding a medical marijuana card. That said, many people have faced additional federal felony firearms charges when caught in possession of both.
Can You Get A DUI After Using Medical Marijuana?
Yes. According to the Arizona Supreme Court, medical users may face prosecution for DUI if they test positive for marijuana in the blood. Since the state’s MJ DUI laws are based on the presence of ANY cannabinoid metabolites, a person could be convicted of a DUI even if they possessed no marijuana at the time of arrest and had not consumed in days.
However, an earlier Supreme Court decision on AMMA patient rights showed you may have options available to show you were not impaired at the time and that any marijuana in your system should be considered remnants of prior use. Typically, these involve witnesses to your behavior, and your own testimony.
Can You Use Medical Marijuana While on Probation?
Yes. According to the Arizona Supreme Court, you cannot be denied probation if you have a medical marijuana card. Use of medical marijuana while on probation is also legal.
Will Recreational Marijuana Ever Become Legal in Arizona?
Although the country as a whole has begun to experience a shift in attitudes toward marijuana users, with even the President of the United States promising to address recreational marijuana at some point during the presidency, Arizona weed laws remain strict. However, many other states continue to claim the only holdup to more lenient weed laws is the continuing federal regulation that marijuana remain illegal.
Forbes has listed Arizona as a state that could possibly vote to legalize recreational marijuana in 2020, but a change is not coming in the immediate future. In 2016, Arizona voters voted down a recreational bill for the second time, and – current Arizona marijuana law notwithstanding – voter support remains mixed. In 2018, Arizona failed to get another recreational measure on the ballot. However, the 2016 defeat was a narrow one. Just under 50% of voters voted against the measure, and a grassroots organization could sway still more decisions. Many experts believe legalization of recreational marijuana is inevitable and call for lawmakers to begin building a framework of regulations to protect children as well as the state’s bottom line.
What Can You Take from This?
As marijuana enjoys ever-widening acceptance throughout the United States, it is entirely possible that Arizona will legalize recreational marijuana within the next few years. In the meantime, it’s important to know the actual medical marijuana laws and not be confused by common misconceptions.
—Chris Weatherall is a writer for Kind Meds, a medical marijuana dispensary in Mesa, Arizona. He has been a long-time resident of Arizona since 1999 and enjoys riding his motorcycle in his spare time.