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Arizona Marijuana Law Is Constitutional, State Judge Says

An Arizona voter-approved law that decriminalizes the possession and sale of marijuana for medical uses isn’t pre-empted by the federal Controlled Substances Act and therefore isn’t unconstitutional, a state judge said.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon said in an order filed yesterday that the Arizona law doesn’t undermine the purposes of the federal law, which he said was to combat drug abuse and to regulate traffic in controlled substances.

“The mere state authorization of a very limited amount of federally proscribed conduct, under a tight regulatory scheme, provides no meaningful obstacle to federal enforcement,” Gordon said. “No one can argue that the federal government’s ability to enforce the CSA is impaired to the slightest degree.”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of White Mountain Health Center Inc., which seeks to open a dispensary in Sun City, a retirement community outside Phoenix. Officials in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, have refused to provide required zoning documents because they argue the Arizona law violates public policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union joined the lawsuit on behalf of the clinic. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne joined the lawsuit on behalf of Maricopa County, arguing that the state law could expose state employees to federal prosecution.

Brewer’s Focus

“The State of Arizona is focused on implementing the Medical Marijuana Act in accordance with the law,” Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, said in an e-mailed statement.

The judge ordered Maricopa County officials to provide White Mountain Health Center with documentation that there is either no zoning restriction for the dispensary’s location or that the dispensary’s location is in compliance with zoning law.

“This should end the unprecedented spectacle of Maricopa County Attorney Montgomery and Arizona Attorney General Horne arguing that an Arizona state law passed by the voters is unconstitutional,” Dan Pochoda, legal director of ACLU of Arizona, said in an e-mailed statement.

The case is White Mountain Health Center v. County of Maricopa, CV2012-053585, Arizona Superior Court, Maricopa County (Phoenix).

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