Patients and industry professionals alike let out a collective sigh of relief as the Arizona Supreme Court officially ruled cannabis concentrates legal Tuesday, May 28. Judges ruled unanimously in a 7-0 decision that the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act clearly allows cannabis extracts.
Although Arizona approved MMJ in 2010, some local authorities treated cannabis extracts and concentrates as illegal narcotics, leading to arrests and prison sentences for law-abiding patients.
The law currently defines medical marijuana as “the dried flowers of the marijuana plant, and any mixture or preparation thereof.” While most Arizona jurisdictions interpreted the law to include concentrates and extracts as “mixtures or preparations thereof,” Maricopa and Yavapai County officials didn’t see it that way. Instead, authorities in those two counties treated cannabis concentrates as illicit narcotics, and charged marijuana patients in possession of concentrates, like Jones, as criminals.
However, the Supreme Court smacked down the state’s prohibitionist authorities by declaring that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act “defines ‘marijuana’ as ‘all parts of [the] plant. The word ‘all,’ one of the most comprehensive words in the English language, means exactly that.”
The landmark ruling concerned the case of State of Arizona v. Rodney Christopher Jones. In 2013, Yavapai County police arrested Jones for possessing 1.4 grams of hashish, a form of marijuana concentrate. Although he showed the police his medical marijuana card at the time of his arrest, he was charged with possessing narcotics.
The saga of questioning cannabis concentrates began with the 2014 conviction of Rodney Jones who was already on probation. Jones had been found guilty of legally possessing cannabis concentrates, but Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk saw it as an opportunity.
Polk, a long-time cannabis opponent prosecuted the case and Jones spent two-and-a-half years in prison without committing a crime.
“We thought it was easy,” White said. “But losing in the lower court and then the Court of Appeals shook the confidence a little bit.”
A 2018 appeal saw judges rule 2-1 against Jones and concentrates, which shook the industry for a couple days before business continued as usual except for scattered reports of other arrests for concentrate possession.
“You have to remember they’re ruling on the information presented to them,” White said. “The information may not have been presented in the best way that it could have.”
That’s when the industry quickly mobilized behind Jones to ensure concentrates remain legal in Arizona by making sure “the right lawyers were in place to make arguments this time around,” White said.
Much of the time, an appellate court ruling becomes legal precedent, meaning for nearly the past year concentrates have been illegal. However, Lane notes that nobody stopped selling them, and no one else was prosecuted under the ruling.
Early estimates put concentrates, such as shatter, wax, oil, tinctures and even edibles like sodas, candies and other foods at around a third of the market for cannabis. Making those products illegal would have impacted a significant number of patients.
“I thought we had the upper hand because their arguments are terrible and the Supreme Court justices during the oral argument seemed to be leaning on the side of reason and logic,” Asnani said. “But you never know.”
Before the Supreme Court hearing, Attorney General Mark Brnovich pulled his support for the case, a move Lane calls “courageous.”
At one point, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, another historic cannabis challenger, was considered for a position on the Supreme Court.
In the end, “the court got it right,” said a tweet from the Arizona ACLU.
“I think we’re now entering an era of normalcy where patients no longer have to worry about whether or not they’re compliant with any laws,” Asnani said.
Some patients with high-tolerances for cannabis prefer extracts or concentrates for their potencies, which can reach over 90 percent THC by weight. (In comparison, dried flowers usually contain 15 to 20 percent THC.). Other patients — specifically those who cannot smoke due to medical reasons — rely on extracts for dabbing or vaping.
“The court got it right,” read a statement from the ACLU. “Today’s ruling means that qualifying patients no longer have to fear being prosecuted for using their medicine in the form most helpful.”