History of Attempts to Legalize Marijuana for Medical Use in Arizona

Medical marijuana has had a rather tortured history in Arizona. When Proposition 203 was finally passed by the voters in 2010, it was actually the fourth time that the issue was on the ballot. Here are the results of the prior three attempts:

  • 1996. A ballot proposal was approved by voters that permitted the use of medical marijuana. State lawmakers in Arizona gutted the law after federal officials threatened to revoke the licenses of doctors who prescribed it.
  • 1998. Voters rejected an initiative that would have required the feds to allow the use of medical marijuana before doctors in the state could prescribe it.
  • 2002. Another ballot measure, this one attempting to legalize marijuana and make it available for free to patients with cancer and other diseases, was defeated at the polls.

In 2010, the voters approved Proposition 203, the measure that is now the law in Arizona.

Limitations on Medical Marijuana

As written, Proposition 203 legalized the use of medical marijuana without the necessity of FDA testing and approval. It contained numerous additional provisions, including some that limited the locations where it would be permissible to use medical marijuana. Specifically, it declared that use of marijuana (even medical marijuana) would continue to be a crime on a school bus, or at a preschool, primary school or secondary school.

The Legislature’s Failed Attempt to Rewrite the Law

The Arizona legislature apparently believed that it’s judgment was entitled to more weight than that of the voters of the state, and decided to insert its own variation in the law. What they did was to enact an amendment to the law in 2012 that added college campuses to the list of schools, effectively making it a crime to possess medical marijuana on a college campus.

The 2012 amendment was the basis for the conviction in 2015 of an Arizona State University student for felony marijuana possession. The ASU student appealed, and earlier this month, a panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the lawmakers acted illegally in expanding the exceptions to legalized medical marijuana use. Specifically, the court said that the voters had spoken regarding those exceptions, and the challenged law did not further the purpose of Prop 203, it simply made criminals out of medical marijuana users. As such, the court ruled that the extension of the prohibition to college campuses violated the Arizona Constitution.

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