Arizona Sues USA for Right to Medical Pot

    PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona sued the United States, asking a federal judge to tell it whether the state's voter-approved Medical Marijuana Act is pre-empted by federal law.
     Voters approved the Proposition 203, Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, in November 2010. It decriminalizes "medical marijuana for use by people with certain chronic and debilitating medical conditions," according to the complaint. "Qualifying patients would be able to receive up to 2½ ounces of marijuana every two weeks from medical marijuana dispensaries or to cultivate their own plants under certain conditions. Proposition 203 provided that its purpose 'is to protect patients with debilitating medical conditions, as well as their physicians and providers, from arrest and prosecution, criminal and other penalties and property forfeiture if such patients engage in the medical use of marijuana.'"
     Arizona sued Uncle Sam after the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, wrote to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble that the "growing, distribution, and possession of marijuana 'in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that purport to legalize such activities.'"
     Burke, a defendant in this case, added that "compliance with Arizona laws and regulations does not provide a safe harbor, nor immunity from federal prosecution."
     In October 2009, U.S. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden sent letters to all U.S. attorneys "regarding investigations and prosecutions in states authorizing the medical use of marijuana," the complaint states. Ogden wrote that "no state can authorize violations of federal law," and that "nothing herein precludes ... investigation or prosecution, even when there is clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law."
     Arizona claims that Ogden's and Burke's letters show "a calculated and coordinated effort on the part of the federal government to threaten prosecution of individuals including state employees who conduct lawful activities under a state's medical marijuana law."
     As of May 24, almost 3,700 patients and 69 caregivers had been certified to use and receive medical marijuana, Arizona says.