Medical marijuana: Ariz. law does not protect growers, sellers from federal prosecution

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PHOENIX – Even though Arizona passed a law allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, that won’t stop the feds from going after marijuana producers and distributors.

Javier Soto breaks down the warning from the U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke about medical marijuana.

"The CSA [Controlled Substances Act] may be vigorously enforced against large marijuana-production facilities," Burke wrote to Will Humble, director of the state Department of Health Services. "Individuals and organizations – including property owners, landlords, and financiers – that knowingly facilitate the actions of traffickers also should know that compliance with AMMA will not protect them from federal criminal prosecution, asset forfeiture and other civil penalties.

"This compliance with Arizona laws and regulations does not provide a safe harbor, nor immunity from federal prosecution."

While Burke said growers and sellers could face federal charges, he also said he had no plans to go after “seriously ill individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment regimen and are in clear and unambiguous compliance” with Arizona’s law.

Even though Burke said he will not devote his "limited resources" on those will medical marijuana cards based on guidance from former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in late 2009, he was quick to clarify that possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law.

The Arizona Department of Health said it’s possible -- even probable -- that Burke’s promise to prosecute those who grow and sell marijuana might reduce the number of applications for dispensary licenses. Those applications are due by June 1. Approved dispensaries are expected to begin operations some time in October.

To learn more about Arizona's medical marijuana law (Prop. 203), go to