Twice defeated in her attempts to limit the voter-approved medical marijuana law, Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday set the stage for a third court battle.
The governor signed legislation to make college and university campuses off-limits to those who are legally allowed to possess and use the drug everywhere else. Brewer press aide Matthew Benson said his boss believes marijuana does not belong there.
But a spokesman for a group involved in convincing voters to adopt the law two years ago already has predicted the new law will be challenged. Joe Yuhas said lawmakers and Brewer are constitutionally precluded from imposing the restriction, no matter how much support it has at the Capitol.
The 2010 initiative allows those with a doctor’s recommendation for certain specified medical conditions to get a state-issued card allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks for personal use.
There are limits, including possessing marijuana on the grounds of any primary or secondary school, and smoking marijuana on public buses or in any public place.
This new law, set to take effect this summer, says no one — including those with medical marijuana cards — can possess or use marijuana on the campus of any public university, college, community college or post secondary institution.
Rep. Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix, said the legislation was requested by college officials.
They said campuses are required to have policies that make their campuses free of illegal drugs. And while the initiative made marijuana legal by some under state law, its possession remains a felony under federal statutes.
Reeve said allowing medical marijuana onto campuses could endanger federal grants to the schools and federal aid to students.
That argument did not wash with state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, one of only two senators who voted against the legislation. She said other states have adopted medical marijuana laws and none of their schools have lost federal funding.
The Arizona Constitution does allow lawmakers to alter voter-approved measures with a three-fourths margin. Benson said this legislation did get that.
But there is a second requirement: The new law must “further the purpose” of the original initiative. And Yuhas said closing off the use of medical marijuana to faculty and students — especially those who live on campus — does not do that.
Benson, however, said Brewer does not see the new law as counter to the 2010 initiative, pointing to the K-12 ban.
“This merely extends an existing prohibition to our college campuses,” he said. “It is a reasonable limitation.”
Benson also said Brewer believes that the “vast, vast majority” of Arizonans support extending the ban. But he sidestepped a question of why, if that is the case, Brewer did not demand that the change be ratified by voters, a move that would have avoided any potential legal threat.
“As with all actions we take, it’s subject to legal challenges if somebody want to go that route,” Benson said.
While the state started issuing cards for medical marijuana users last year, Brewer barred the state health department from processing applications for dispensaries. The initiative mandated licensing of about 125 of them around the state where users could legally obtain the drug.
Brewer then asked a federal judge to rule that the voter-approved law conflicts with federal laws. But Judge Susan Bolton threw the case out of court.
And a state judge subsequently granted a motion by some would-be dispensary owners to force the state to start accepting and processing applications. Judge Richard Gama said Brewer was acting illegally in refusing to fully implement the voter-approved law.