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Legal marijuana patients face drug charges

A defect in criminal laws and overzealous law enforcement are a combination that can threaten citizen rights. Prosecution and conviction of at least two people with valid medical marijuana cards in Yavapai County show that criminal appeals may be necessary to preserve rights when there are oversights with drafting new laws.

According to the Arizona ACLU, the county prosecutor is interpreting current state law to allow medical possession and use of marijuana in its plant form. However, the prosecutor considers products made from it as illegal cannabis that is prosecutable under the state's felony drug laws.

The county prosecutor was a vigorous opponent of medical marijuana when a citizen's initiative placed it on the ballot in 2010, according to an ACLU spokesperson. It was ultimately passed in 2010 as the Medical Marijuana Act. Yavapai County is a mostly rural area located between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

The two defendants possessed Arizona marijuana cards, but were arrested for possessing a derivative of the drug, classified as cannabis, and not the plant. One of them was convicted and is serving a three-year prison sentence. Charges are pending against the other individual who could face 10 years of imprisonment if convicted.

An appeal of the conviction is pending before the Arizona Supreme Court. Other valid medical marijuana users face risks of arrest and conviction in that county, nonetheless.

A state house committee passed a bill, HB 2149, which is intended to correct this. It would amend the law so there would be no legal distinction between marijuana plants and its derivatives. The measure is awaiting action by the full House of Representatives.

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