Judge Jo Lynn Getty of the Maricopa County Superior Court is not disputing more is being collected from medical marijuana users by the Department of Health Services than necessary to administer the program. Capitol Media Services obtained documents showing the agency has collected fees of $19.9 million starting in June of this fiscal year. The expenses for this period were under $7.8 million. This leaves a roll over balance of more than $31 million.
According to Gentry, the only thing the Medical Marijuana Act indicates is the fees collected must sufficiently cover the costs associated with the program. This act was approved by the Arizona voters in 2010. The law does not say anything about more money being collected than what is required for the program. The judge has stated the lawsuit is essentially requesting her to adjust the fees to a level considered more reasonable.
Attorney Sean Berberian has stated he is planning to file for an appeal. He believes the reason the voters of Arizona voted to pass the AMMA was so legal access to medicine could be established. He does not believe the voters meant to create any unnecessary financial difficulties when the AMMA passed. Berberian stated the fees can be as high a $150 every year for the patients, and the caregivers who aid the patients can pay an additional $200. He feels this has created unlawful and unnecessary barriers for the patients. He additionally said these patients are trying to get medical marijuana because it has been recommended to them by their doctors.
According to the 2010 law, when an individual has a specific medical condition, and the recommendation of their physician, they can obtain a maximum of 2 ½ ounces of medical marijuana once every two weeks. The law also established a network of dispensaries regulated by the state to sell the drug.
The initiative did not please the elected officials in Arizona. At the time, Jan Brewer was the governor. She attempted to put a roadblock up to prevent the program from passing. She attempted to stop the state health director at the time, Will Humble, from granting licenses to the dispensaries. She claimed the state could not allow a drug to be sold that was illegal according to the federal law. The effort was unsuccessful, and 99 dispensaries in Arizona currently hold licenses to sell the drug.
Berberian spoke of other litigations and roadblocks questioning the requirements of the state regarding adding more conditions. This included whether marijuana could be sold for a child requiring a nonpsychoactive version of the drug in liquid form. Berberian argued by refusing to reduce fees, this was another indication of the hostility of the state regarding the program approved by the voters. The fight is about so much more than academics.
Berberian spoke of a patient named Lisa Becker with numerous ailments, who has been suffering for years. He stated she had been given four drugs for anti-nausea, and opiates for pain management by her physicians. Her need for opiates has been decreased by medical marijuana, her nausea has calmed down and she can once again eat solid food. The problem is she lives on $1,100 per month but must still pay the fee of $150. She has been forced to spend less money on medications or borrow the money she needs.
Yolanda Daniels is the other plaintiff with attorney S. White. She acts as her twelve-year-old granddaughter’s caregiver because the child has epilepsy. The marijuana has decreased the child’s seizures, but Daniels must pay $350 per year, $200 because she is a caregiver and $150 for the card her granddaughter requires.
The only way the court can determine if the AMMA and constitutional requirements are being met by the fees would be to control the AMMA’s administration from DHS. This would allow the courts to determine the operating budgets based on everything from litigation expenses to salaries. According to the law, these decisions must be made by the health department and not at the menu counter of a dispensary near me.