Towards the end of last year, Arizona became the 13th state in the country to legalize recreational use of marijuana when voters passed Proposition 207 by a 60/40 margin. By the end of January 2021, stores across the state were selling marijuana to consumers. However, Arizona’s new marijuana law doesn’t provide for carte blanche legalization and raises many questions.
There a few things to keep in mind about Arizona’s new recreational marijuana law. For example, possessing, selling, growing, and driving under the influence of marijuana still remains illegal under some circumstances. And in most cases, the potential punishment for violating the state’s new marijuana laws are very harsh.
Possession of Marijuana
Proposition 207 legalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Under the current law, possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is legal. However, possession of more than an ounce but less than 2.5 ounces is a petty offense, punishable by a fine. From there, the punishments increase quickly. For example, possession of two to four pounds of marijuana is a felony offense that carries a term of imprisonment of up to two years.
Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona drug possession case discussing the defendant’s request for specific discovery related to a border checkpoint. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s request for additional discovery, finding that he could not establish that there was a “substantial need” for the material or that he was unable to obtain the requested discovery on his own. The case illustrates the importance of understanding the legal framework that governs discovery requests and how to effectively request desired discovery.
According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was driving through a border checkpoint when he was stopped by border patrol agents. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the defendant’s car, and an agent directed the defendant to pull into an area for secondary screening. Upon searching the vehicle, agents found marijuana and methamphetamine. The defendant was eventually charged with possession of marijuana and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.
Before trial, the defendant requested “all search and seizure raw data” from the border checkpoint where he was stopped. The defendant argued that the information was relevant to determine whether the primary purpose of the checkpoint was for immigration enforcement or drug detection and enforcement. The court denied his request, and the defendant was ultimately convicted.
In 2010, voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) by a small margin, making it legal for qualifying patients to obtain medical marijuana after they get a state-issued registration card. While the AMMA certainly provides some protections, the law hardly makes smoking marijuana “legal,” even for qualifying patients who have their state ID card. For example, employers can still terminate an employee if they test positive for marijuana.
On May 9, 2019, the Arizona Court of Appeals struck another blow to patients’ ability to legally smoke marijuana under the AMMA. According to the court’s opinion, the defendants were on their way to a music festival. After they pulled into a parking lot that was designated for event parking, they smoked marijuana from a pipe. However, the defendants had unknowingly parked between two undercover police cars. The officers saw the defendants smoking in the car, ordered them out, and seized the pipe. Officers also seized a gram of marijuana.
The defendants, who were both “qualifying patients” under the AMMA and had their state ID cards, were charged with the possession of marijuana. The defendants argued that they were immune from prosecution based on the AMMA. The prosecution argued that the AMMA provides exceptions to the immunity granted to patients, one of which is when the patient smokes in a public place. The court found the defendants guilty and sentenced them each to a period of probation. The defendants appealed.
Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona drug possession case discussing an interesting motion to suppress that was brought by the defendant. The defendant argued that the smell of marijuana should no longer give a police officer probable cause to detain, search, or arrest based on the state’s loosening stance on marijuana and the availability of medical marijuana. The court, however, summarily rejected the defendant’s argument.
The Facts of the Case
According to the facts as outlined by the court, a postal inspector noticed several suspicious looking packages that were dropped off at various post offices. The inspector obtained a warrant to search the boxes, and found marijuana inside. The inspector then took fingerprints from inside the box, and the prints came back as belonging to the defendant.
Evidently, the inspector obtained an arrest warrant for the defendant. As police arrested the defendant, he asked if he could put his shoes on. The officer accompanied the defendant into his home as he grabbed his shoes. As the officers walked through the defendant’s home, the noticed large rolls of cellophane wrapping and could smell marijuana. Using that information, the officers obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s home, and discovered marijuana and other items that the officers believed to be drug paraphernalia.
Recently, an Arizona appellate court issued a written opinion in a case involving the defendant’s possession of a small amount of hashish, requiring the court to determine if the defendant was protected under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). Ultimately, the court concluded that the AMMA – which does not specifically mention hashish – does not afford protection to qualifying patients found in possession of the substance.
The defendant was a “qualified patient” under the AMMA, meaning that he was able to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes. In March 2013, the defendant was found in possession of .05 ounces of hashish oil. The defendant sought dismissal of the charges based on the fact that he was a qualifying patient under the AMMA, but the court rejected the defendant’s motion. The defendant then proceeded to trial in front of a judge alone, where he was found guilty and sentenced to 2.5 years’ incarceration for the hashish and a concurrent term of one year incarceration for possession of drug paraphernalia (the jar containing the hashish).
The defendant appealed his conviction, making the same arguments on appeal. However, the court affirmed his conviction. The court began with an explanation that, when it comes to voter-enacted laws such as the AMMA, it a court’s job to “give effect to the intent of the electorate.”
Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona marijuana case resulting from an arrest of a California citizen who was stopped in Arizona with marijuana. The case is the latest in a line of many cases dealing with the relatively new laws across the country legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana possession.
The Facts of the Case
The defendant, a California resident, was stopped by an officer with Arizona Public Safety for failing to have functioning headlights. When the officers stopped the defendant’s car, they reported a smell of marijuana coming from the car. As they peered inside the car, they saw a white pipe with black residue near the defendant.
The police officers removed the defendant, and he admitted that the pipe was his and also that he had medical-grade marijuana as well as THC wax in the vehicle. The officers then asked the defendant if he had an Arizona medical marijuana card. The defendant responded that he did not but that he did have a recommendation letter from a California doctor stating that he would “significantly benefit from the use of medical marijuana,” and the doctor “approved the use of cannabis as medicine.”
In a recent Arizona marijuana case, the defendant appealed after being convicted of selling marijuana and weapons misconduct. The case arose when two detectives had a confidential informant conduct a controlled buy. The detective searched the informant to make sure he didn’t have money, drugs, or paraphernalia. The detectives photographed a set of $20 bills to be used to purchase drugs and set up the informant with a recording device.
They followed the informant in cars to the target’s home. After going in, the informant returned to his car, accompanied by the target and a woman. The three went to the gas station, and the detectives followed. The target got out and went up to a white car that was parked at the gas station. He got inside and then went back to the informant’s car. They returned to the home, followed by the police. The informant dropped off the target and passenger. He met the detectives to be debriefed and searched. The detectives found a plastic baggie containing marijuana.
Meanwhile, a detective asked a patrol officer to follow the white car and stop it if there was any traffic violation. The patrol officer followed the car after it left the gas station and pulled him over for speeding. The patrol officer saw there was a handgun on the seat, and it was in a firing position. He asked the driver for the gun, which the driver gave him. He also smelled marijuana, and the driver admitted she had marijuana in a paper bag. She consented to a search. Inside, there were bags of marijuana and brownies and a set of $20 bills. She had a medical marijuana card, so the officer determined there was no basis to believe she’d broken a drug law. The officer photographed the money and drugs before letting her leave.
How High is Too High to Drive?
In November 2016, Arizona voters rejected a measure to legalize recreational marijuana, with many people citing concerns about a possible increase in driving under the influence (DUI) violations as being the reason behind their opposition. Appellate courts in Arizona, however, have made a number of decisions in marijuana DUI cases that make it more difficult for prosecutors to convict registered qualifying patients under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).
The most such recent decision came from Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals. On December 22, 2016, the Court of Appeals vacated the conviction of man charged with driving while marijuana or its metabolite was in his body.
Proposition 205 Results for Legalization of Marijuana
In the November 2016 election, five states including Arizona, had legalization of recreational marijuana on the ballot for voters. Of those, it passed in four states. But Arizona was not one of them.
Proposition 205 gave Arizona voters the opportunity to legalize recreational use of marijuana for individuals 21 or older, failed in Arizona.