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home : opinions : commentary May 2, 2016

7/31/2012 1:09:00 PM
My Turn: Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Program: facts tell real story
Sheila Polk

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act was narrowly passed by the voters in November of 2010. The Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services states that we have a “model” program, and that the demographics of the card users show the “vast majority are legitimately accessing the system.” (Az. Republic 7/20/12)

Do the facts really support these claims?

ADHS has issued 30,550 medical marijuana patient cards. Only 1,275 of the cards are for cancer; 27,330 of the cards are for self-defined chronic pain. Interestingly, 74 percent of the patient cards have been issued to males; 26 percent to females. Forty-seven percent of the cards have been issued to users between the ages of 18 and 40.

Within about three weeks, ADHS will license 126 dispensaries in Arizona; each dispensary can also grow marijuana at a second off-site location. Thirteen applications were received to operate dispensaries in north Tempe, the location of ASU.

There is no limit to the amount of marijuana a dispensary may grow or sell. Dispensaries are also permitted to sell marijuana to other dispensaries, and prepare and sell food products infused with marijuana.

While ADHS moves forward full speed ahead to license the cultivation of marijuana, the Department of Justice is moving just as fast to seize medical marijuana dispensaries in other states, asserting the supremacy of the federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”).

In California, the U.S. Attorney recently seized the Oakland and San Jose locations of the Harborside Health Center, adding to the list of dispensaries already shut down by the federal government in that state. It is only a matter of time before the same dispensaries licensed by Arizona officials will be shut down by our U.S. Attorney.

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides that federal law “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Under this principle, state laws that conflict with federal law are preempted. The United States Supreme Court has ruled, in Gonzales v. Raich, that state medical marijuana laws are preempted by the federal CSA.

Although states may lawfully choose to exempt marijuana from state criminal liability, they cannot affirmatively authorize a use that federal law prohibits. Any use of marijuana remains a crime under federal law, as does the facilitation of those acts. There is no immunity in the CSA for Arizona officials for issuing medical marijuana licenses.

Is this really “medical” marijuana when 4 percent of the cards are for individuals with cancer and 88 percent for chronic pain? Does it make medical sense that 74 percent of the “patients” are male? Is our law really a model when it allows the cultivation of marijuana by dispensaries in unlimited amounts?

Is it a model program when state officials license the use of marijuana directly in conflict with federal law? Lastly, what kind of model program has one arm of the government licensing dispensaries while another arm of government is shutting them down?

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney and Co-Chair of MATForce, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition.

Related Stories:
• Letter: Polk wrong about Harborside marijuana dispensary
• State set to award marijuana dispensary licenses
• Governor rejects prosecutors' request on medical marijuana cards

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: John A. Bond

If you truly want to understand the emphasis upon criminalization of MJ, just follow the money.

Investigate and see who makes the money from illegal drugs. Oh, to be sure, the drug suppliers make a lot of money.

But, in order to insure an uninterrupted flow of $$$$$$$, they have to pay off a lot of people who otherwise would arrest and prosecute them.

Furthermore, it comes from both sides. The drug suppliers pay off the police to "look the other way" and the Government funds efforts to interdict drugs thus making keeply drugs illegal really lucrative.

This is not rocket science. It is always about GREED!

If, as many who post here claim, MJ is a truly effective MEDICINE that can easily be grown AT HOME without need for expensive prescriptions/doctor viists, that eliminates the PROFIT MOTIVE, so one can easily see why it MUST be kept illegal.

Anything less would be anti-capitalist, and we all know that capitalism is king in America.

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: Mary Jane

Ms Polk, Your job is to enforce AZ state law for Yavapai County. Since you cannot seem to bring yourself to do this, simply resign! I think most people are tired of you and your ilk whining and complaining because the electorate didn't see things your way, GET OVER IT!!!

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: Jean Fry

"The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides that federal law “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Under this principle, state laws that conflict with federal law are preempted."

Hummm.....that being the case, why does SB 1070 come to mind or AZ abortion restricting/contraceptive laws, both seek to circumvent Federal laws. Why is this any different??? Can you say hypocrisy..... Why is it ok in one instance and not in another??????? Politicians just seem to pick and choose whatever will best serve their agendas, be damn the people's choices......

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: I use MJ for a variety of reasons

Alcohol and drug addiction runs rampant in our family and has for many generations. So for pain, depression and anxiety and PTSD, I use MJ. My MD knows I use MJ for medical reasons, and agrees it is a safer, non-addictive drug, given my family history of addictions.

But last summer, I had to pass a drug screen for a summer job in another state. I stopped using MJ for 60 days before to get a "clean" drug screen but had to use the powerfully addicting drug Ativan, that was prescribed by my MD. It was considered "ok" to come back with a positive drug screen for Ativan, but not MJ.

So after I "passed" the drug screen, I could start using the MJ again, as the company did not retest employees after hiring. But when I tried to stop using the Ativan, I suffered thru withdrawals-stomach cramps, nausea, sweating, my hands shook, severe headaches and it was difficult process to wean off the Ativan. I had to go thru the process with the help of my MD, who actually encouraged me to use MJ to reduce some of the withdrawal symptoms of Ativan. So why was I forced into using a powerful narcotic prescription drug (Ativan), when MJ is just as effective and is not deadly, nor addictive, just to get a job? I have never showed up to work "stoned" but have had to show up to work with an Ativan hangover, as the effects from Ativan can last more than 12 hours.

And yes, I occasionally use MJ recreationally, just as people use alcohol recreationally. But at least I won't become addicted to MJ as I could with alcohol.

So Shelia, there are many reasons why you should not stick your nose into the MJ controversy. One, you didn't graduated from medical school, and you should not be deciding what drug a patient should have access to. Two, We the People, have spoken 3 times in the MJ issue. Three, MJ crimes should be a low priority when compared to some of the major crimes that are committed in Yavaipai County.

I also don't know why you are so surprised that the number one reason for medical MJ is pain, when the number one generic medication prescribed in the US is the deadly and addictive drug of hydrocodone.

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: M J

"IF" it is medicine, the "PATIENT" should get their "MEDICINE" from a pharmacy with a prescription from a REAL doctor who has been to a REAL medical school.

Mr. Malcolm Kyle: you stated that you would not want a Nurse who was drunk treating anyone. I agree, I also would not want a Nurse who was stoned treating me. duh!

HaHa - nothing brings out the drooling liberal horde more than a pot issue.

Stupid Stoners!

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: Stupid Stoner

I am 1 of the 20k+ patients that has chronic pain. De-generating discs in my back, the whole 9 yards. My left shoulder sounds like a rock crusher when I use it. I am 36, and was broad-sided by a teenage driver who was speeding and decided my right of way was less important than his cell-phone call. If I use narcotic drugs I can't sleep, my digestive tract goes haywire, I have horrific hallucinations, and to top it off I experience drug induced psychosis. I use a gram of cannabis, I eat supper with my family, put my children to bed and go to sleep myself for about 7 hours. NO digestive issues. NO hallucinations. NO psychosis. And most importantly RELIEF from constants pain. Humans have used this plant for 1000's of years as medicine, it wasn't until McCarthyism strangled America that Cannabis was deemed to be bad. Do some research MJ, you mite discover the truth.

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012
Article comment by: Hanna Reilly

I absolutely adore you Sheila. But you are dead wrong on this one

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: GRETA SMALL

My father had glaucoma and had to take eye drops for over 15 years. These drops stung so bad, there were days when he went without because of the pain. Now, I am hearing that medical marijuana can be prescribed for people with glaucoma. Apparently, the marijuana relieves pressure on the optic nerve and helps the patient without the pain of the eye drops. If this is the case, and a card was received for marijuana, are we allowed to grow our own marijuana since we cannot purchase it?

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: Fare Play

If it gets to be a "free for all" the program will get shut down. With the limited number of despensaries in the state it will be much different than it was in California. I am sure the inventory and sales records will be under constant scrutiny by the state government.
There is going to have to be a better screening of the applicants. Chronic pain that is legitimate, usually is comes with a doctors. reports and xrays otherwise it isnt the inordinate number of guys or the age groups that is at fault , it is more a fault in the eligibility process. Letting someone just come in and say they are suffering from chronic pain and be able to pick up a card is ridiculous.
If the process was set up that way by the state, then it sounds like a deliberate way for the state to set the program up for abuse and ultimate failure. You have to have a doctors. prescription to get any other kind of drug at the drug store. The same kind of requirements should be for medicinal marijuana otherwise there o fcourse will be abuse. Anyone that is suffering from chronic pain should be required to show a medical history associated with that chronic pain. Otherwise anyone should be able to go to any pharmacy and just say they needed oxycotin because they suffer from migraines and then they get it. Whoever set the requirements for the use of medical marijuana is the one that dropped the ball and probably dropped it on purpose. They want this program to fail.

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: sue smith

I am a 50 yr old female who was born with a crippling disease at birth. I have been on many different arthritis meds my whole life time. Many of these med make me ill. Marijuana not only make me able to eat, but also helps to ease the pain of arthritis. Not to mention the cost of marijuana is by far cheaper than the meds I am prescribed. If a person has a genuine health problem they should get what makes their life more manable. Who really knows the long term effect of these newly developed pharmacuticals???? Please continue the use of medical marijuana.

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: Who Cares

Of course medical cards are going to be used by people who may not fit the law to a "T". But the regulations to get a card are pretty stiff, like having to be treated for pain for at least a year by a doctor. As long as the card keeps people out of prison for smoking/possesing some reefer-- I say give one to every person in the state of AZ and let the war on pot starve itself to death. I'll take potheads over drunks anyday, if you can't see that you are what's wrong with this country

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: The lights are on but... there's nobody in

Jane Doe people like you and those who abuse the program by dishing out their "medicine" to the friends who come around when you get a new batch in, are the reasons so many people think its about one big happy party.

Let's have it dispensed through a pharmacy like any other medicine in doses for that patient, then the doctors can make sure it is being used for a medicinal purpose. If this isn't possible then just legalize it! Then nobody has to fake chronic pain to get it. I personally don't think it is as bad as alcohol is, so tax it, bring in revenue and stop with all the idiotic comments and focus on more important things, like taking care of our kids and keeping them away from all drugs legal and illegal.

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: malcolm kyle

MJ, Marijuana's prohibition has invariably been rooted in hate, paranoia, racism, misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies. It's your right to disagree, just try to do it factually and with less hate lies. Everyone of us has had enough time to see through, and disregard, the hate and lies we've already heard a million times. They were hate and lies then, they are hate and lies now.

There is no debate: Marijuana is absolutely safer than alcohol, tobacco, or even most, of our over-the-counter "medicines". Prohibition, on the other hand, is a costly nightmare that only enriches criminals and corrupt politicians. Millions of citizens are already using marijuana, legal or not. What many sane people are proposing is to take the criminal aspect out of it and collect revenues from its sale —instead of spending millions of precious tax dollars on doomed-to-failure enforcement.

"Imagine coming out of surgery and the nurse caring for you was drunk. Or having to work harder on your job to make up for a co-worker who shows up drunk on whiskey. It could happen everywhere in the United States. The repeal of the Twenty-first Amendment would do more than simply legalize alcohol. Doing so would hurt America's economy, raise business costs, and make it harder to create jobs. Employees would be allowed to come to work drunk and employers would be unable to punish an employee for being drunk until after a workplace accident. Not only could worker's compensation premiums rise, but businesses will lose millions in federal grants for violating federal law. America's economy is bad enough. Repealing the Twenty-first Amendment will hurt workers and business and cost jobs. Twenty-five national newspapers including the New York Times, United Autoworkers and Senator John Boehner agree: stop the repeal of the Twenty-first Amendment."

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: Carl Nye - Jerome

Fear, fear, fear. The federal government has pounded fear into (some of) our heads for over 70 years, starting in the days of Harry Anslinger and "Reefer Madness". Never mind that marijuana has been used for centuries as medicine. Personally, I am more concerned about the behavior of people drunk on alcohol than high on pot. And I think the most prevalent fear today is not about whether someone may be "getting high", but whether legal marijuana will cut into the profits of police departments, private prisons, the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry, and rehabilitation therapists and facilities. And let's not re-hash the old "federal law overrides state law" argument again. We've seen Arizona laugh at federal law several times recently. Profit and greed are what are motivating the anti-legalization, anti-medical marijuana objectors today. As Machiavelli pointed out a few hundred years ago in his treatise "The Prince", change is always opposed most strongly by those who are doing well under the present system. Just look around today at who is doing well under the present prohibition and you will see the eternal truth of Machiavelli's words.

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article comment by: nutso fasst

Has anyone wondered how it can be that federal prohibition of alcohol required a constitutional amendment while federal prohibition of other drugs could be imposed by Congress? Constitutionally, Congress can not simply legislate the use of those other drugs. But they did.

Brewer was rightfully concerned about the feds' response...
Maybe Portugal has a better idea...

Maybe Portugal's solution isn't right for the entire U.S., but if drug use legislation were rightfully in the purview of the states rather than the fed, it could be considered on a state-by-state basis.

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