AZ Supreme Court Strikes Down Campus Medical Marijuana Ban

What is Arizona’s Law on Medical Marijuana?

In 2010, Arizona voters passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) as Prop 203, a citizen initiative that allows qualifying residents to treat serious ailments with medical marijuana. The measure was intended not only to allow qualifying patients to legally obtain medical marijuana from clinics monitored by the Arizona Department of Health Services, but to provide legal protection that allows patients to legally possess small amounts of medical marijuana. Additionally, Prop 203 prevents employers from firing or refusing to hire individuals based solely on their status as medical marijuana patients. However, patients can legally be fired for being under the influence or possessing medical marijuana at work.

Why Was Medical Marijuana Illegal on College Campuses?

            In 2012, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law (HB 2349) that banned possession of medical marijuana from public university and college campuses, as well as K-12 and preschool campuses. Under the campus ban, qualifying patients found possessing or using medical marijuana on university campuses can be charged with marijuana crimes the same way non-patients would. Amid concern that legal marijuana on campus would jeopardize federal funding for colleges and universities, the bill had passed nearly unanimously, receiving only two votes against in each chamber of the legislature.

Why was the Campus Ban Overturned?

            In 2014, ASU freshman and medical marijuana patient Andre Maestas was arrested and charged with a felony for possessing 0.4 grams of medical marijuana in his dorm room (the charge was eventually reduced to a misdemeanor). Maestas appealed his conviction in the hopes of overturning the campus ban. Last April, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled the campus ban violates the Voter Protection Act’s restriction on amending voter-backed initiatives in a manner that does not further the initiative’s purpose, thereby making the campus ban unconstitutional. While universities are still allowed to ban medical marijuana under their own rules, the Court of Appeals ruled that charging medical patients with a crime for doing so necessarily impedes the AMMA’s primary purpose: to shield medical marijuana patients from legal jeopardy. Following an appeal by the Arizona Attorney General, the Arizona Supreme Court granted review of the Maestas case. In a unanimous decision filed on May 23, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeals’ conclusion, hinging their decision on whether or not the campus ban “amended” the AMMA in a manner at odds with the law’s purpose. In its appeal, the State maintained the argument that the AMMA “expressly authorizes restrictions for cardholders on university campuses . . . in order to ensure continued access to federal funding.”  Indeed, the AMMA does stop short of shielding patients from prosecution for possessing marijuana “on the grounds of any preschool or primary or secondary school.” However, since college and university campuses were not included in this list, the Court reasoned “that the voters did not intend to criminalize AMMA-compliant possession or use of marijuana on public college and university campuses.” Ruling that HB 2349 modified the AMMA in a manner inconsistent with the will of voters, the Supreme Court struck down the campus ban as an unconstitutional addendum to a democratically-enacted initiative.