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Appeals court says state law supersedes federal drug law

The Arizona State Court of Appeals handed down a ruling recently, instructing Phoenix officials that they could not refuse to grant marijuana dispensaries the necessary zoning to begin construction. While some attention was pointed to the fact that the dispensary in question for this particular case would be located in an unincorporated part of Sun City, the majority of the decision established that officials are not allowed to override state law that legalizes the medical use of marijuana with federal law that maintains that marijuana is illegal to distribute, possess or imbibe.

The judges affirmed the will of voters, who in 2010 passed a bill that legalized the sale and use of medical marijuana. However, Maricopa County's attorney continues to push back against the ruling, insisting that he will take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The county attorney instructed various officials in Maricopa to simply refuse to respond to previous requests for zoning from a dispensary, claiming that any officials who took parting the process could be held liable for aiding and abetting federal crimes.

The Appeals Court dismissed these contentions, stating that under a federal appropriations act from 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice is barred from using its resources to keep the State of Arizona from enacting and obeying state-specific laws regarding marijuana. Citing this precedent, the Appeals Court roundly rejected the notion that any government official could be personally held liable for aiding and abetting a federal drug crime through compliance with state law.

As laws continue to shift and change, there often are areas of conflict such as these, where one party's interpretation of a law stands in opposition to another party's rights and interpretation of the same or a different law. If you are facing a property zoning issue or are concerned that you may be violating some state or federal law, an experienced attorney can help you understand the full scope of the issues at hand.

Source:, "Arizona Court: federal law does not trump state medical marijuana zoning," Howard Fischer, Dec. 20, 2016

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