TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – The Arizona Court of Appeals dropped a bomb on the state’s medical marijuana community Tuesday, ruling that concentrates of marijuana – hashish, oils and other products derived from the plant – are not covered by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
The ruling will likely force dispensaries to either pull edibles and other forms of cannabis from shelves statewide or risk arrest or loss of operating licenses. The State Department of Health had previously allowed concentrate sales, and numerous large-scale commercial kitchens and extract manufacturers are operating statewide to supply more than 100 dispensaries.
Tuesday’s decision spells bad news for Arizona’s 170,000 medical marijuana patients who so far this year have bought 33,000 ounces of edibles and 29,000 ounces of other forms of cannabis according to Red Duran of Premium Melts Extractions in Tucson.
“Concentrates make up two-thirds of the market,” Duran said Wednesday. “It’s sad that tens of thousands of patients are going to have to go without their medication. Not all patients consume cannabis flower. A lot of patients prefer to vape or eat cannabis products, which are usually made from concentrates.”
He estimates several hundred jobs could be at risk across the state.
The case stems from the 2013 arrest of Rodney Jones for possession of 0.05 ounces of hashish and drug paraphernalia. Jones claims his possession of hashish, a concentrated form of cannabis derived from the plant, is protected under the Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act. That law, passed by voters in 2010, allows medical marijuana cardholders to have up to 2.5 ounces of “useable marijuana.”
But from the beginning, the state has argued that extracts of marijuana are distinct from marijuana and not covered by the medical marijuana law. These extracts are gradually taking over the market as patients shun smoking in favor of vaping oils or eating cookies, candy and even salad oil and spices made with extracts.
Jones was convicted in Yavapai County Superior Court in September 2016 and sentenced to 2.5 years for drug possession and one year for possession of a hash pipe, earning credit for the year he spent in jail awaiting trial. The appeals court upheld the conviction 2-1.
“The state argues that by not specifically including extracted resin within its description of immunized marijuana, AMMA adopts the ‘pre-existing law distinguishing between cannabis and marijuana.’ We agree,” Judge Jon W. Thompson wrote for the majority, noting the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled hashish is distinct from marijuana and that only marijuana is protected under the medical law.
Had the framers of the law wanted hashish and other concentrates protected, they would have used the language in the law, he wrote.
Judge Kenton D. Jones dissented, writing the court shouldn’t rely on a commonly accepted definition of marijuana in the context of the medical law because the law does specifically define marijuana as “all parts” of the cannabis plant – which includes resins, he wrote.
“A statutory definition trumps any meaning ‘generally and ordinarily given to such words,’” Jones wrote, adding that using the criminal code to define something that is clearly defined in a different statute is wrong.
Jones’ attorney, Craig Williams of Prescott Valley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.