Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arizona police study medical-marijuana law

The plants that will ultimately produce medical marijuana in Arizona are not legally in the ground, but police agencies are already planning how their officers will try to enforce state pot laws while respecting a sick resident's right to possess the herb.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he would assign a special unit to target medical-marijuana frauds, but the unit so far consists of two deputies and a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official who works for free.

Arpaio is alone in that regard: Other police agencies in Arizona are waiting for finalization of state Department of Health Services rules regulating medical marijuana before assigning resources to police abuses of the law.

A DHS official said police had offered input into the rules, just like the public, prompting changes to rules related to transporting medical marijuana. However, nothing is final until March.

Police officers statewide will get medical-marijuana training in two phases, said Lyle Mann, executive director of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. The first will center on basic issues that a street-level officer might face daily, such as what 2.5 ounces of pot looks like, what medical conditions qualify a patient to legally possess it and how to identify out-of-state cards authorizing medical marijuana use.

The second phase in late spring will focus on "higher level" issues, Mann said, such as dispensary fraud, transporting marijuana and organized criminals who could target patients, caretakers and clinics.

"The bad guys have to know what the rules are so they know how to break them," Mann said.

Arpaio chose not to wait for the training. But his designation of a unit to target medical-marijuana fraud is largely symbolic at this point. The sheriff does not yet know how many people will work on the unit or whether their work will be primarily in Valley cities or in county islands that his deputies patrol.

Arpaio compared the medical-marijuana issue to immigration, in that he was in the enforcement vanguard. But the Sheriff's Office has since found itself under federal investigation for activities related to immigration enforcement.

by JJ Hensley The Arizona Republic Feb. 10, 2011 12:00 AM

Arizona police study medical-marijuana law

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