Will Humble, AZ DHS Director, Not Worried About Running Medical-Pot Program Despite New Federal Warning

Categories: Medical Weed

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Image: Arizona Department of Health Services
Will Humble, director of the state Department of Health Services, says he isn't worried he'll be prosecuted federally for carrying out the wishes of Arizona voters.

If the feds decide to pull up their jackboots and bust state employees for administering Arizona's medical-marijuana program, the director of the state Department of Health Services could be a target.

After all, Will Humble is the boss at DHS, the state agency that will be approving applications for dispensaries and inspecting marijuana grow-shops and inventory.

But Humble says he's not worried -- despite a February 16 letter by Acting Arizona U.S. Attorney Ann Scheel warning that state employees aren't "immune" from prosecution under federal drug laws.

"As long as they stay true to their job, I can't imagine a prosecutor would bring a case like that," Humble says.

Humble points out that the feds are well aware the state was ordered to implement the voter-approved program by a state judge. State employees who "never took a sample, never did anything untoward and kept their noses clean" will probably be safe, he says -- adding quickly that that's just his opinion.

The February 16 letter by Scheel (see below) was "much ado about not much," Humble says.

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Image: Acting Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office
Ann Scheel, Arizona U.S. Attorney, wrote in a February 16 letter that state workers who administer Arizona's medical-pot law aren't immune from federal prosecution.

Scheel penned the letter in response to a January 13 letter by Governor Jan Brewer, which asked for guidance after the dismissal of Brewer's federal lawsuit over the state law. Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne had filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last May, hoping a judge would rule on whether the state law was legal or not. Brewer also told Humble not to accept applications for dispensaries until the
matter was settled.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton slammed Horne's subordinate in public court before dismissing Brewer's lawsuit on January 4, saying that the state had failed to pick one side or another on the issue. "That's not how lawsuits work," she told former assistant Attorney General Lori Davis.

We hear that Brewer didn't share Scheel's February 16 letter with Horne, and that he only learned of it when reporters called this week. We asked Horne about it, who replied in an e-mail that he didn't know why Brewer's office withheld it.

Either way, it seems odd that Brewer's office didn't release the letter to the public a month ago.

Still, in her January 13 letter Brewer finally sounds like the states'-rights champion she claims to be:

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Image: Jamie Peachey
Packets of marijuana buds at the Arizona Cannabis Society, a collective of medical-marijuana caregivers and growers.

"The Department of Justice and the administration which you serve will have a lot of explaining to do to the citizens of our country, and State of Arizona employees in particular, if the State's reasonable and straightforward requests for clarity are again ignored, and the Department of Justice then ambushes State employees with prosecution or civil penalties for implementing the (Arizona Medical Marijuana Act) and
licensing medical marijuana dispensaries," Brewer wrote.

Brewer reminded Scheel of her predecessor Dennis Burke's May letter to the state warning there was no "safe harbor" for anyone violating the federal Controlled Substances Act. After receiving the Burke letter, Brewer says she instructed Horne to "devise a legal strategy" in order to figure out how to best proceed with the medical-pot program.

Brewer conveniently leaves out the fact that in January of 2011, Horne had already suggested filing the federal lawsuit during a meeting with opponents of the law.

Days after writing the letter to Scheel, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama ordered Brewer to roll out the program in full, as voters intended.

Gama's ruling also tossed aside some of the rules from the program that had been developed by the DHS, such as the requirement that dispensary owners be state residents.

DHS staff came up with a new rules package in light of Gama's ruling and forwarded it last  month to the state Attorney General's Office, Humble says. The AG's office will
review it and is expected to forward the package to the state Secretary of State's Office. As soon as that happens, the new rules will be in effect.

Then, Humble will give his 30-day notice to dispensary applications. Once that green flag drops, would-be dispensary owners have two weeks to submit their plans under the new rules.

As decided early last year, the state will grant one dispensary license for each of the 100-plus arbitrarily drawn "Community Health Analysis Areas," or CHAAs.

When all the applications are in, the DHS will take 45 days to review them. On the 45th day, a random drawing will be held for the CHAAs that have more than one applicant.

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