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Court Holds Arizona Medical Marijuana Act Does Not Protect Patients Who Smoke Marijuana in Their Car

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.

On appeal, the court upheld the defendants’ convictions. The court explained that while the AMMA provides general immunity to qualifying patients who choose to smoke marijuana, there are exceptions. The court noted that, under the AMMA, patients were not protected when they used or possessed marijuana in the following circumstances:

  • on a school bus,
  • on the grounds of a preschool, primary, or secondary school,
  • in a correctional facility,
  • while on public transportation, or
  • in any public place.

In this case, the court determined that smoking marijuana inside a car was considered smoking in a “public place,” and it affirmed the defendants’ convictions. In so holding, the court rejected the defendants’ argument that the parking lot was not a “public” location because it was leased from the city by the private company that put on the music festival. The court also rejected the defendants’ claim that the inside of their vehicle was not a public area, explaining that the relevant question is the “location” of where the smoking took place, rather than whether the defendants took any efforts to conceal their smoking from the public.

Have You Been Arrested?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona marijuana crime, contact Attorney James E. Novak for assistance. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients charged with marijuana offenses and other more serious drug charges. While the attitude toward marijuana has shifted, the drug still is not legal for recreational use in Arizona. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges that have been filed against you, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation.

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