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Arizona Efforts to Legalize All Marijuana in 2014

Measure would also liberalize Arizona’s strict Marijuana DUI laws. 

An initiative filed by “Safer Arizona”, seeks to legalize all forms of Marijuana for adults in Arizona. The words “We’re gonna legalize it” which appears on their website indicates their mission to end all Marijuana prohibition in Arizona.

The petition requires 259,213 signatures which need to be submitted before July 3, 2014, in order to be put on the November 2014 ballot in Arizona.

Currently, recreational Marijuana is prohibited in Arizona under A.R.S. 13-3405.  Depending on the quantity involved in the offense, possession or use of it may be charged as a felony, and if convicted, exposes a person to prison sentencing, and other harsh penalties.

Arizona passed Medical Marijuana legislation in 2010, by a slim margin of voters. However, it has taken three years and a host of legal battles to advance its implementation. Obstacles stemmed from legal battles involving conflicting Federal Laws which prohibit Marijuana. Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, all forms of Marijuana are illegal. Generally, federal laws prevail when state and federal laws differ. However, Arizona Courts thus far have supported the new Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) under passed by Arizona voters.

One legal battle in particular involved White Mountain Health Center v Bill Montgomery, DHS, State of Arizona, et al. White Mountain Health Care, a Medical Marijuana Dispensary, was initially denied a zoning license to operate within Maricopa County. The Superior Court reasoned that Medical Marijuana laws under AMMA and A.R.S. 36-2801 were much narrower than the Federal Laws which prohibit it. So the Court ruled in favor of the Arizona voters, consistent with trending in other states, who limited Marijuana to medicinal use. The court also announced that such narrow use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes was not in violation of public policy. It ruled that White Mountain Health Care’s application for zoning rights should be honored.

Maricopa County Attorney, Bill Montgomery appealed the ruling., which was upheld on December 20, 2012, when the Arizona Court of Appeals refused to block the Superior Court’s Order.  The appeals court ruled that White Mountain Health Center Medical Marijuana Dispensary may proceed with the prior orders to obtain zoning rights. This paved the way for other Dispensaries to obtain their zoning licenses in Maricopa County, which are now in operation.

The new full Marijuana legalization effort is much broader than the preceding Medical Marijuana proposal. The purpose of the new initiative is to put laws in place that will lift the ban and enable Marijuana possession, use and sales, to be administered similarly to those involving liquor laws.

The Safer Arizona initiative was modeled after that of Colorado’s and Washington’s “Marijuana for all” proposals in 2012. While the voters in both states voted for full legalization of Marijuana in 2012, they continue to face obstacles for implementation due to the conflict between state and federal laws.

Safer Arizona describes the new measure as a grassroots effort, meaning it has no major financial funding sources, and driven only by public support. Volunteers are relied upon to collect the signatures needed to put it on the ballot. However, it is expected that national pro-legalization of Marijuana groups will provide financial support, once the required number of signatures are collected to enable the measure to be put on the ballot in 2014.

Proponents of lifting the ban fully, feel that current prohibition of Marijuana promotes other health hazards and dangers including: alcoholism, alcohol poisoning, liver disease, street violence, dangerous drug dealings, and lack of control over children and minors having access to it.

In contrast, Safer Arizona endorses Marijuana over alcohol. Their stance is that Marijuana has medicinal qualities, promotes pacifism, and peaceful conduct. Further, they feel that it is unlikely to result in death or disease, as compared to alcohol. In sum, advocates for the measure feel that legalizing Marijuana would get it out of the hands of children, reduce crime, and promote healthier choices, over alcohol for adults.

The new initiative also seeks to liberalize Arizona’s strict Marijuana DUI laws. This is critical given the fact that currently, drivers can be prosecuted for driving under the influence even if they are not impaired to the slightest degree, by Marijuana.    This provision was motivated by a recent Arizona Appellate Court ruling Arizona that allowed for prosecution of Marijuana DUI in absence of driver impairment.

In Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan the Appeals Court decided that driver impairment was not a prerequisite for arrest and prosecution. But rather, the driver can be prosecuted for Marijuana DUI if the only trace substances are found in the motorist’s bloodstream. The trace compound at question was Carboxy –THC which may remain in a person body 3 to 4 weeks after use and more importantly does not cause driver impairment. Carboxy – THC differs from the active ingredient in Marijuana known as Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. The active ingredient THC has been found to cause driver impairment when certain levels are reached in a person’s bloodstream. A.R.S. 28-1381 was interpreted by the court in way that allows for prosecution without impairment of a motorist if they were driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle, while under the influence of any drug defined under A.R.S. 13-3401. The court ruled that under Arizona DUI law Carboxy –THC the non-active ingredient fell within the definition of “metabolite. The Arizona Appeals court expressed that their intent was in the spirit of public safety. However, it faced heavy scrutiny in Arizona and throughout the country. Many felt that it was senseless to prosecute drivers with no impairment, calling it unconstitutional.

Safer Arizona is expected to obtain the number of signatures needed to put it on the ballot in 2014. However, even in light of its popularity, the measure can expect to meet strong, formal, and widespread opposition for the proposal. But that will be just the beginning. If passed, the law can count on even more legal battles in the future given the conflicting Federal prohibition laws.

Marijuana Defense Lawyer Tempe, AZ

Arizona currently has some of the toughest Marijuana and DUI laws in the country. Criminal charges for illegal drug and impaired driving offenses result in harsh penalties, and will jeopardize your freedom and future. If you face criminal or DUI charges contact the Law Office of James Novak, in Tempe AZ at (480) 413-1499. James Novak is an experienced marijuana lawyer in Maricopa County. He provides a free initial consultation regarding your matter. If retained he will protect your rights and defend your charges. He serves clients in Tempe, Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Scottsdale, and surrounding areas

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