By Claudia Gilburd, founder Teen Law School 

Arizona voters narrowly passed Proposition 203 in November, allowing for the legal sale, consumption and production of marijuana for approved medical use in our state.  According to a timeline published by Arizona’s Department of Health Services, the agency responsible for medical marijuana oversight, dispensaries could become certified for business as early as the spring of 2011.  For the thousands of Arizonans who suffer from debilitating medical conditions such as Cancer, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, Hepatitis C and others, the legalization of medical marijuana may bring dramatic relief from pain and nausea, renewed appetite and generally improved wellbeing.  But for critics of the measure, enforcers of the law’s strict regulations, police and parents, plenty of questions remain about the legal availability of pot in our state.  Will our kids have easier access to it?  Will head shops pop up in our neighborhoods?  Will teens be able to grow, possess or smoke marijuana with reduced legal risks?  Will they be able to secure ID cards and medical recommendations from doctors without our knowledge? 


Arizona is the now the 15th state in the nation to provide medical marijuana protections under state law (A.R.S. § 36-280).  On the federal level, however, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance right along with cocaine, heroin and LSD.  That designation muddies the waters considerably: can states pass laws that contradict federal laws? (technically, no)  Will federal agents enforce federal laws in Arizona, or simply look the other way as they’ve most often done in other states? The loopholes are still large, but following the mandate of Arizona voters, the Arizona Department of Health Services is currently hard at work writing the rules and regulations that will govern the distribution of medical marijuana in our state.


The Department promises to design stricter controls for Arizona’s pot program based on lessons learned from other states.  To protect against thousands of shops cropping up in our cities as they did in Los Angeles, the number of certified dispensaries statewide in Arizona will be set at 10% of the number of traditional pharmacies – about 124 in total.  Dispensaries will not be allowed to open within 500 feet of a school, BUT since none of our cities and towns have ever had the need for local zoning regulations for pot shops, they don’t exist yet, and that void could lead to shops being certified almost anywhere. If you are concerned about marijuana production or retail operations opening near you, contact your local zoning board and request that the issue be made an agenda item.  Plans now call for at least one dispensary being certified in each of our state’s 15 counties.


Ironically, Arizona is currently home to some of the toughest drug laws in the country.  Possession of even one seed of marijuana in our state is a felony offense, and charges for personal use possession usually always come with a companion charge of felony possession of drug paraphernalia.   These charges are reduced to misdemeanors for first time adult and juvenile offenders, and come with  court mandated drug education as well as specialized drug court procedures.  But, repeat offenses and charges of possession of larger amounts can easily land juveniles and adults in prison.  Compare our approach with California’s where possession of up to an ounce of pot was recently reduced from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction punishable only by a small fine!


According to a recent study*, more than 40% of Arizona high school seniors smoke pot with some regularity in spite of the severity of our drug laws. Our teens simply don’t understand the legal risks they run, and with the introduction of medical marijuana in our state, many more anticipate being able to access pot and use it without any legal repercussions.  THIS WILL NOT BE THE CASE!  The distribution of medical marijuana ID cards in Arizona will be highly regulated and monitored by the state and local law enforcement, and the standards for gaining ID cards based on medical need will no doubt be daunting and dependent upon extensive medical review by certified physicians.  Of course, there will be abuses and abusers of the system, but you can help protect your child from becoming a victim by staying on top of the program’s development and by talking with your child about his or her thoughts about the medical marijuana issue. If your discussion is open and non-judgmental, you’ll likely learn a lot about his or her attitudes about drugs in general, whether he or she uses, knows kids who use, understands our state’s laws and their consequences, has firm convictions about his or her behavior choices and knows how to protect him or herself against the intensely powerful force called peer pressure.  


For more information about how our state’s medical marijuana program is being developed, visit http://directorsblog.health.azdhs.gov/ for updates on rules, regulations, zoning issues for dispensaries and medical requirements for obtaining state issued ID cards.  For more information about your teens and Arizona law, please visit www.teenlawschool.com or email info@teenlawschool.com. Teen Law School® conducts lively and informative seminars for teens and parents which cover the local, state and federal laws that govern the activities of typical teenage life.

*Arizona Youth Behavior Study 2009


Your Family and The Law is written by Claudia Gilburd, founder of Teen Law School® for the clients and friends of Davis Miles Law Firm.  Drug offenses in Arizona are very serious, and Davis Miles attorneys are expert in providing vigorous defense and rights protection for adults and juveniles.  For any legal matter involving any member of your family, Davis Miles attorneys are ready to advocate for you.