The Legal Nexus

A blog of the Maricopa County Bar Association

Governor, Attorney General To File Suit Regarding the Legality of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act

Brewer says Court Action Needed to Determine Whether AMMA Violates Federal Law 

On Tuesday, May 24, Gov. Jan Brewer said she has directed Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to file suit by the end of the week seeking a declaratory judgment from a federal court regarding the legality of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).

“For the state employees charged with administering the medical marijuana program or the Arizonans who intend to participate as consumers, it’s important that we receive court guidance as to whether they are at risk for federal prosecution,” said Brewer. “As explained in a recent letter from the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, the federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. Arizonans deserve clarity on an issue with such dire legal implications.”

The Arizona Department of Health Services had been implementing voter-approved AMMA provisions until it received a letter, dated May 2, 2011, from U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. Burke’s letter warned that marijuana remains a Schedule I Controlled Substance, meaning that “growing, distributing and possessing marijuana, in any capacity, other than as a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that purport to permit such activities.” Burke said that his office would “vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”

In his letter, Burke raises questions about the legality of both the AMMA and related Arizona Administrative Code provisions. Brewer said she is concerned about the vulnerability of state employees charged with administering the AMMA, including, but not limited to, the issuance of dispensary licenses and qualified-patient registration cards. If a federal prosecutor were to decide that such activities are contrary to federal law, state employees may be subject to federal prosecution, she said.

Burke’s letter also expresses concern that medical marijuana creates uncertainty for state law enforcement. In the letter, he calls into question the ability of the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) to maintain federal grant monies, the department’s enforcement activities and federal task force actions, and the employment status of DPS employees who could be in violation of federal law while participating as consumers in the AMMA. Continue reading

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May 25, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

For the Love of Country – Retired Justice O’Connor Pitches iCivics

O’Connor asks MCBA members to spread the word on iCivics project

Ret. Justice Sandra Day O' Connor spoke to students at Desert Foothills Junior High School in Phoenix last week about the importance of civics education.

When retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor attended school in the 1930s and 40s, civics classes were an integral part of students’ education. Today, due to school budget cuts and an emphasis on raising math and science scores, many civics classes have been cut or have had little impact with students. To the 81-year-old former Arizona senator, assistant attorney general and judge, that is devastating news.

In an effort to revitalize an interest in and understanding of civics among young people, O’Connor and a small team comprising Abby Taylor, who is the iCivics Executive Director and served a fellowship for O’Connor while studying at Georgetown University Law School, and Jeff Curley, also a graduate of Georgetown in education and communications, launched a web-based education project in 2009 called iCivics.

The project, which was created through a non-profit organization, uses online games and activities to teach students an array of civics-based lessons, including on the three branches of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, citizenship and participation, and separation of powers. Using the program, students can run their own law firms, be president for a day, act as an attorney arguing a real Supreme Court case, learn how immigrants become American citizens, and be a Supreme Court justice.

A screenshot of the iCivics homepage shows a myriad of colors and graphics to make students' learning of civics fun and entertaining. - photo provided iCivics.

Students can also play fun games that allow them to campaign for an issue of their choice, choose questions for politicians to debate and work as a legislator trying to meet the needs of constituents.

O’Connor, who has been busy promoting the iCivics program to schools and at events across the country since 2009, said she is shocked and discouraged at students’ lack of knowledge of basic U.S. government. “Our young people know virtually nothing. They’re coming out of high school at 18 and they’re eligible to vote yet don’t register or don’t know how to vote,” O’Connor said.

A report released May 4 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects – including math, science, reading and history – over time, shows that while fourth graders’ knowledge and skills in civics have increased and eighth grade scores remain unchanged, those of 12th-grade students have declined with just one quarter of high-school seniors deemed “proficient.” The report, called the Civics 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 4, 8, and 12, is known as The Nation’s Report Card.

The 2010 test assessed 26,600 students in a sample that was designed to be representative of the entire U.S. student population by socioeconomic status, race,  parents’ education, language barriers and disabilities.

Jeff Curley, deputy director of iCivics, said O’Connor has been tireless in her efforts to help students learn more about civics. As a result of her work, people are responding to the challenge.

Last year the Florida Legislature enacted the Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education law.  The law requires that 7th graders complete a civics course and 8th graders pass a civics test to be promoted to high school. Additionally, civics-related content must be taught on all grade levels.

O’Connor said that while that’s a great start, she would like to see Arizona schools also make strides in the area of civics, starting with implementing the iCivics program in schools. “It’s my hope that my home state of Arizona will help get it (iCivics) in use,” she said.

O’Connor also called upon attorneys and others in the legal field to help get iCivics into the schools. “Most lawyers are willing to help students to be good citizens…It would be wonderful if members of the Maricopa County Bar would help us by contacting schools. It’s free, costs the school nothing, and it is very teacher friendly. It would be a great service to get the county bar to contact high schools and middle schools,” she said.

May 11, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment

And the Winners of this Year’s Student Essay Contest Are….

Seven students took home certificates of accomplishment for this year’s Law Day Essay Contest, presented by MCBA’s Young Lawyers Division. The essay question for the 2011 contest, which included essays submitted by 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, addressed the assumptions of guilt without all the facts.

First-place, sixth-grade essay contest winners Vincent Wu and Madeline Maiorella (Lookout Mountain Elementary).

Winning essays included answers to questions regarding appropriate judicial process and rights to a proper legal defense.  Each of the winners was presented with a certificate at the Arizona Supreme Court on April 22.

6th/7th grade category:
1st place: Vincent Wu and Madeline Maiorella (Lookout Mountain Elementary, 6th grade)

2nd place: Jonathan Spencer Alarcon (Franklin South Elementary, 6th grade)

3rd place: Sarah Johnson (Mercury Mine Elementary, 6th grade)

 8th grade category:
1st place: Jose Flores (Rose Linda School)
2nd place: Brock Kistler (Center For Educational Excellence)
3rd place: Leticia Rangel (Rose Linda School)

May 4, 2011 Posted by | About Us | Leave a comment