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County attorneys challenge Brewer over medical marijuana law

All but two of Arizona's county attorneys have signed a letter to Governor Jan Brewer asking her to stop the licensing of medical marijuana patients and dispensaries. They say it's too dangerous for the state to run a program that violates federal law. 

The letter was written by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and cosigned by her colleagues across the state, with the exception of the Coconino and La Paz county attorneys. The letter warns that the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act is in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, and that the U.S. government could close dispensaries and charge state employees who work on the medical marijuana program with federal crimes.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said it doesn’t matter that medical marijuana was approved by the voters. “It is not entitled to any deference when it runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution," Montgomery said. "All of us, particularly those in law enforcement, take an oath to uphold both the United States and Arizona constitutions; and that supremacy clause in the federal constitution means that when a state act’s inconsistent, our duty is clear.”

“This was a horrible experiment, and I join with my fellow county attorneys in insisting that the governor take action to not issue these licenses, and I also call on the Attorney General to uphold his oath," Montgomery said.

But in a reply letter, Governor Brewer said that even though she disapproves of medical marijuana, she’s duty bound to implement it.

“Governor Brewer has been clear that if she hears otherwise from the courts, or if she receives any indication that her state employees are at the risk of prosecution, she won’t hesitate to put the law on ice," Matt Benson, Brewer's spokesman, said. "But at this point, we’re going to proceed.”

Currently, about 30,000 people have been certified as a medical marijuana patient. The state health department, which regulates the medical marijuana program, has received 460 complete applications to open a dispensary. They're scheduled to hold a lottery on August 7 to pick who gets a license. They expect to issue between 95 and 99 dispensary licenses.

Updated 7-31-2012 12:35pm