PHOENIX - Governor Jan Brewer is asking the courts to decide on the legality of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
Brewer has directed Attorney General Tom Horne to file a suit in federal court by the end of the week clarifying the voter-approved statute.
“For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it’s important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution,” said Governor Brewer.
On May 2, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke sent a to the Director of the Department of Health Services, warning growing, distributing and possessing marijuana is against federal law.
He wrote in part, "The Unites States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona will continue to vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law."
Brewer said she is concerned state employees who administer dispensary licenses and patient registration cards could be at risk for federal prosecution. She said she also is concerned about Department of Public Safety employees who are tasked with enforcing federal and state laws, which conflict in the case of medical marijuana.
“The State of Arizona has worked to follow the wishes of voters,” said Governor Brewer. “But I won’t stand aside while state employees and average Arizonans acting in good faith are unwittingly put at risk."
But Joe Yuhas, the acting director of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association says the risk is minimal.
"The simple fact of the matter is, the federal government has never sued to prevent the implementation of a medical marijuana law," said Yuhas. "Nor has it taken any action against a state employee who has been carrying out the responsibilities they've been presented with."
Yuhas said putting the law on hold will force people who need the drug for medical purposes to turn to the black market.
He also says Brewer's lawsuit goes against what the people of Arizona voted for.
"In Arizona, our leaders cannot tamper with a voter approved citizen initiative and that is what has happened here, this is clearly tampering ," said Yuhas.
But others involved in the medical marijuana industry agree with the Governor's decision to seek clarity.
"If she's stopping just the dispensary side of the program, I think it's a good thing," said Allan Sobol of Marijuana Marketing, who has run classes on the medical marijuana industry. "I think a step back, an opportunity to take a second look at this program ,is probably a good thing...they've been rushing it through, this licensing thing."
Dispensaries were set to begin applying to operate on June 1, but Brewer says she intends to put the program on hold, pending a decision.
Horne doesn't know how long it will take to receive a judgment.