A judge in Arizona has turned down the most recent request by medical marijuana patients in the state to reduce the steep $150 fee the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) charges annually for a valid medical marijuana card.
In a May report by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, it was revealed that, in the last fiscal year, which ends in June, the agency took in fees totaling $19.9 million, while operating expenses for the program over that term totaled under $7.8 million. That puts the fund’s balance at over $31 million going into the next fiscal year. That would essentially equate to over three years of operating expenses covered without the need for taking in any new fees.
The judge in this most recent effort by patients to reduce the burden this annual fee imposed on them, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry, admitted sharing the assessment that the ADHS was charging more for the cards than it required to meet its medical marijuana program’s operating expenses. Nevertheless, she still declined the patients’ request, her rationale being that the law only requires that the agency running the state’s medical marijuana program take in enough in fees to cover its costs of operation, but says nothing prohibiting the agency from taking in even more than it needs for those expenses.
The judge explained that in order for the courts to be empowered to determine the appropriate fee to charge patients to participate in the state’s medical marijuana program, it would be required to take responsibility for the administration of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), instead of letting the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) continue to run it.
Attorney for the patients, Sean Berberian, who called the fees “unnecessary and unlawful barriers” to patients obtaining access to the medicine they need, said he plans to appeal the judge’s decision. He pointed out to the court that it was the voters themselves who passed the AMMA, legalizing marijuana for medical use in the state, and that it was not these voters’ intention that undue obstacles be placed before patients trying to lawfully obtain their medical marijuana.
Currently, in addition to paying the $150 annual fee charged by the DHS, patients wishing to obtain medical marijuana lawfully under the AMMA must also obtain a doctor’s authorization to use marijuana medically. The appointments to receive these doctors authorizations usually cost between $75 and $150. The DHS reduces the annual fee to $75 for patients on the SNAP/food stamps program.