This story has been updated.
PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled medical marijuana patients are protected from arrest for possessing cannabis extracts as long as they don’t have more of the drug than allowed.
The unanimous decision Tuesday concluded cardholders are immunized because extracts such as cannabis oil and hashish are considered marijuana under the state’s 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law.
The ruling reversed a lower court decision that found patients faced arrest for hashish possession because the drug isn’t mentioned or included by name in the law.
The case, which for years has put Arizona’s entire medical cannabis industry and 184,000 patients in a kind of limbo, began in March 2013. Rodney Jones, a registered medical marijuana patient, was arrested for possessing 1.4 grams of hashish.
‘All Parts of the Plant’
Prosecutors argued that the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) did not protect Jones, because hashish and other cannabis extracts did not qualify as “marijuana” under the language of the initiative. Marijuana, they contended, only referred to cannabis flower and leaf.
Jones was convicted and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.
His appeals were denied by subsequent courts, leaving the Arizona Supreme Court as his last, best hope.
The state Supreme Court, in its ruling issued Tuesday morning, gave prosecutors and previous courts a bit of a spanking. From the outset, the justices made clear in their ruling that because the AMMA was passed by voter initiative, their primary objective would be to “give effect to the intent of the electorate.”
“The most reliable indicator of that intent,” wrote the court’s majority, “is the language of the statute, and if it is clear and unambiguous, we apply its plain meaning.”
The AMMA permits those who meet certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana without fear of arrest