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Updated Sep 9, 2013 - 2:43 pm

Arizona health official: Loophole could hurt medical-pot community

PHOENIX -- Arizona's health director says some forms of medical marijuana such as edible resin may not be authorized under the state's medical marijuana allow, potentially opening the door for criminal prosecution of dispensary operators or patients.

Health Services Director Will Humble says Arizona criminal laws use different definitions than the voter-approved 2010 medical marijuana law, which he says doesn't appear to address resins and extracts covered by criminal laws.

Resin extracted from marijuana flowers can be added to baked goods, creams and other products, which industry advocates have argued fall under the law's category for ``usable marijuana.''

Humble said his department hopes to provide guidance for licensed dispensaries soon, but he recommended that patients and dispensary owners consult with an attorney if they feel their activity may expose them to criminal prosecution.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery says Humble was offering ``sage advice,'' the Arizona Capitol Times (http://bit.ly/1aTSQEG ) reported.

Montgomery also said he will work with law enforcement agencies to come up with a strategy for ``how to best handle conduct that does not fall squarely within the limited provisions'' of the medical marijuana law.

The state's position has put the family of a 5-year-old Mesa boy in a quandary, KNXV-TV reported.

The parents of Zander Welton, a boy approved for medical marijuana use to help with a genetic brain effect that leads to seizures, had hoped to use an alternative form of marijuana to help their son.

However, because of the state's position, the Harvest of Tempe dispensary put the brakes on its efforts to help the boy.

``It's hard for us to tell patients, `Hey this is medicine, smoke it.' We would prefer to provide them alternative means of ingestion. To any extent that any ruling or any decision takes away from those options, it's frustrating for us,'' said attorney Steve White, a Harvest of Tempe board member.

Ryan Hurley, a lawyer who represents several dispensaries, said the mismatch between the medical marijuana law and the criminal laws has been known but that Humble's statement adds urgency to the situation.

``When their license is on the line, it changes the risk calculation,'' Hurley said of dispensaries.

Hurley said businesses intending to manufacture resin-based products should get a court order saying the medical marijuana law covers those projects.

Hurley said it's unlikely that the Legislature would act to address the problem.

Legislative changes to voter-approved Arizona laws require three-quarters votes by both legislative chambers, and many lawmakers either oppose the medical marijuana law or reluctantly tolerate it, Hurley said.

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