Judge: Medical-Marijuana Patients Can Sell Pot to Other Patients Because Law is Vague
Arizona's medical-marijuana law is so vague, the state can't prosecute patients who sell pot to other patients, a Pima County Superior Court judge has ruled.
Image: Susie Plascencia via Flickr
The offbeat July 2 ruling and dismissal of a criminal case by Judge Richard Fields has the potential to open up all sorts of entrepreneurial opportunities for Arizonans to sell marijuana legally -- if it survives an appeal.
The case began with the October 8, 2013, indictment of Jeremy Allen Matlock on three felony counts in connection with the sale and growing of marijuana. Matlock's public defender, Sarah Bullard, filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the premise that Matlock was immune from prosecution.
Bullard argued that Matlock, a registered cardholder who was approved for cultivation at the time of his indictment, never violated the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act because the law allows patients to sell marijuana to other patients.
Although voters in 2010 approved a system of regulated dispensaries to sell marijuana, part of the Act's text that is now enshrined in Arizona Revised Statute 36-2811 states that "a registered qualifying patient or registered designated caregiver is not subject to arrest, prosecution or penalty in any manner" for various marijuana-related offenses.
Here's where it gets interesting: Those qualified Arizonans can't be prosecuted "for offering or providing marijuana to a registered qualifying patient or a registered designated caregiver for the registered qualifying patient's medical use or to a registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary if nothing of value is transferred in return and the person giving the marijuana does not knowingly cause the recipient to possess more than the allowable amount of marijuana."
That's a mouthful, especially with no commas. But without punctuation, Judge Fields notes in his ruling, (see below for full text), it can be interpreted in at least two different ways. The Pima County Attorney's Office reads it one way -- that patients and caregivers can't sell give their pot to anyone if something of value is transferred.
Bullard and her client wanted the clause read in a different way.
Read her way, the whole "nothing of value" part affects only those cases in which the patient sells to a dispensary.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields
Another clause in the law states, "Any cardholder who sells marijuana to a person who is not allowed to possess marijuana for medical purposes" will have his or her card revoked, implying that a cardholder who sells pot to a person who is allowed to possess it under the AMMA would not face revocation.
Arizona's "rule of lenity" requires that if a law has more than one interpretation, the one more lenient to the defendant must be applied.
Put it all together, Fields writes, and the law "necessarily implies that a qualifying patient can sell marijuana."