Some patients, like children, use extracts for treatment.
Medical marijuana patients are keeping their eyes on a case headed to Arizona Supreme Court. The court granted a petition of review earlier this month and will hear arguments in March to weigh in on the hazy issue of marijuana extracts.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in June that medical marijuana extracts, also called hashish, do not fall under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Extracts are used in oils, or edibles, as well as in vaping.
The ruling stems from the 2016 conviction and sentencing of Rodney Jones, a registered medical marijuana patient who was found in possession of a jar containing 0.005 ounces of hashish in 2013.
The state argued extracts are not protected under Arizona's medical marijuana law because they are not part of the law's description. The state also says in court documents that extracts are “neither marijuana nor a preparation thereof […] but merely the separation of one part of the plant from another.”
The appeals court ruled Jones was not immune from prosecution. He was sentenced to serve 2½ years in jail for drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.
What will the Supreme Court consider?
The Court of Appeals' ruling made extracts illegal.
“According to our Supreme Court, hashish is ‘the resin extracted from marijuana plant,' criminalized as cannabis, a narcotic drug and distinct from marijuana,” the court ruled.
With the new appeal, the Arizona Supreme Court will consider the language of the state medical marijuana law, its purpose, and whether it covers extracts.
There have been some conflicting lower-court rulings on the issue.
In 2014, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that 5-year-old Zander Welton could be treated with extracts for seizures, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Judge Katherine Cooper said in her ruling that the state law allowed qualifying patients to use extracts, including CBD oil.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit regarding Welton because Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and other law enforcement believed the act did not allow the use of extracts, according to the organization.
In court documents for the case regarding Jones, former Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble weighed in on his understanding of the state's medical marijuana act. He helped create the rules for the act, which voters passed in 2010.
“As we developed the rules, I always believed that extracts and preparations of marijuana (cannabis) were protected under Proposition 203,” he said in his court filing.
Will more patients be punished?
Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice became involved with the case near the beginning, according to Sarah Mayhew, who wrote the group's opinion to the court.
She said the group is concerned that patients who legally receive a medical marijuana card and go into a state-licensed dispensary could possibly be charged with a crime.
Many state-licensed dispensaries sell extracts, like edibles.
“This case is particularly important because the Court of Appeals has read the American Medical Marijuana Act in a very constrictive way that prevents people from using their medicine,” Mayhew said.
What about children?
Jared Keenan, an attorney for Arizona's ACLU chapter, said the court’s decision is important because many children who use medical marijuana for treatment need to use extracts instead of smoking the leafy substance.
The organization told numerous stories of families needing to use extracts in an opinion submitted to the court.
One family uses CBD oil and THC oil to treat their 2-year-old daughter who has a form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. Her condition cannot be treated with most anti-seizure medications. Extracts have decreased the frequency and length of the child’s seizures, according to the court document.
“She now smiles and plays and is developing normally,” the family said in court documents.
Another parent said extracts have allowed her teenage daughter to attend school. Her daughter has cerebral palsy and is visually impaired. Before using extracts, her daughter was “bedridden, out of school, and on feeding tubes.”
Now, the teen attends school full time. Vaporization is not an option for the teen because it takes more time and effort due to her limited mobility and strength.
“Marijuana extracts provide a ‘safer and more effective’ treatment method,” the mother said.
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