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How to Handle Cannabis Concentrates in Arizona Now

July 3, 2018
A state appeals court recently ruled that extracts and concentrates aren't covered by Arizona's medical marijuana law. But the case is being appealed. What to do in the meantime? Medicate wisely. (rgbspace/iStock)
Editor’s note: This article appeared in 2018, when the legal status of medical cannabis concentrates remained unsettled in Arizona. On May 28, 2019, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that medical concentrates are, in fact, legal under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. For more on that ruling, see our story here

If you’re one of the 170,000 medical cannabis patients in Arizona, you may be confused about the legal status of concentrates right now. That’s okay. We all are.

An Arizona court ruling threw the legal status of concentrates into limbo. Here's how you can medicate wisely in AZ.

Here’s the problem: Arizona’s medical marijuana law, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), conflicts with the state’s original 1973 law prohibiting marijuana. It’s an arcane technical problem that involves different definitions of “marijuana” and “cannabis,” and which word more appropriately describes today’s wide variety of concentrates (everything from vape pen cartridges to tinctures, rosin, bubble hash, wax, shatter, et al).

A state appeals court last week ruled that these concentrates are not protected by the AMMA. But that’s not the final word on the matter. The ruling will be appealed, and this week lawyers across Arizona are preparing legal arguments to present to the Arizona State Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court accepts the case, the appeal process will most likely take the better part of a year.

In the meantime, many Arizona dispensaries have vowed to continue providing concentrate products to their patients.

If you’re one of those patients, what can you do? What should you do? Here are a few places to start.

Act Politically

  • Express your concern by contacting your local state legislator and telling your story—let them know how important your medicine is to your health and quality of life.
  • Rep. Pam Powers-Hannley (D-Pima) will take up the issue in the next legislative session. Call her office to discuss ways you can help her advance the legislation necessary to correct this grievous error.
  • At your local level, contact the mayor, city council members, and local law enforcement officials. Call for their commitment to not prosecute concentrates cases.
  • Breathe in, breathe out, don’t act the fool, don’t turn on each other in the panic. Believe you are on the right side of history, medicine, and ultimately the law, no matter what legal misreading we are currently dealing with.

Court to Arizona Medical Extract Users: Watch Your Back!

If You’re in the Industry

If you work in the industry, you have already heard rumors that the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) is saying they are not making sudden changes, and will inform everyone if they revise their rules. That is true. It’s important to remember that DHS created and enforces the existing rules on medical cannabis concentrates. Technically it could be considered entrapment if they should try to arrest you for following the law. As long as you are operating compliantly, you should be safe. (Please note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. I am but one voice of experience, and results may vary.)

If You’re a Patient

If you are a patient, remember that it is your choice to consume medical cannabis. Despite various state-level protections, it is still against federal law. You are making a conscious choice to break federal law each time you shop or possess.

Some dispensaries are withdrawing concentrates, but others will continue to offer them to patients.

The decision to use or not use concentrates is, again, your choice. Some dispensaries are withdrawing their concentrate products for the time being until the legal situation is clearer. But they have not been ordered to do so, and until DHS announces otherwise, some will continue to manufacture and sell these products.

Many patients (pediatric patients, for example) must have concentrates and it would be hazardous for them if they had no legal outlet. This risk is similar to violating federal law, and it is a choice each patient or parent must make.

If you choose to continue using concentrate products, here are the reminders we at AZ-NORML give:

Be aware of your surroundings when consuming.

Even though 94% of Americans support the concept of medical marijuana, only about 10% of the population actually consume cannabis. It provokes strong feelings, both positive and negative. While it is your right to consume cannabis as medical patient, it is also important that you respect the rights of others around you and recognize their potential prejudice against it. Some will assume you’re consuming irresponsibly—they don’t know that you may rely on medical cannabis to maintain your health.

Practice discretion. Even with a medical card, it is illegal to “smoke” in public, while driving, or on government property. Vaping, while less obvious, is also a risky choice. The words “in public” essentially mean anywhere outside a private residence or private club.

If you must consume cannabis outside your personal property, be aware of others around you.

Do not consume cannabis in your car.

This is the most important step you can take to protect yourself from police. Impaired driving is a national concern. No matter what the research says about cannabis and driving—see Leafly’s helpful dive into the research here—smoking and operating a motor vehicle (car, plane, or boat) is strictly illegal in every state. Just say “No.” Just say “It can wait.”

Smoking cannabis in a car, even cautiously, will in time permanently create a “weed smell,” and vaping is more obvious than you might think, especially in city traffic. In either case, law enforcement can use the odor of cannabis or the sight of a vape cloud as probable cause for a lengthy, stressful roadside search and possible arrest.

Travel compliantly.

If you are stopped by police, it is critical that your vehicle does not invite further scrutiny. Throw away any empty cannabis containers and cannabis-related materials. Keep paraphernalia tucked away (out of sight) at all times. When returning from a dispensary, keep your purchases in the original, sealed dispensary bag. Do not even remove the staple until you get to your destination.

When traveling, keep your cannabis in its original dispensary packaging and inside an inaccessible container, such as a suitcase or computer bag in the back seat. The safest place to put your cannabis while traveling is in the trunk.

The idea is to reassure the police that you have not been consuming in the car. Remember, even when traveling between states where cannabis is protected, it is federally illegal to transport cannabis across state lines. While your medical marijuana card can be part of an affirmative defense in other medical states, it provides no protection in states without a medical program. As always, do not travel in Arizona with more than your 2.5-ounce legal limit of flower.

Conduct yourself with caution around police.

Many of the cannabis cases we see occur because of the way some patients conduct themselves during a traffic stop. Remember, law enforcement responds to politeness. They also respond to nervous, deceptive, or defiant behavior.

Provide only what is asked, and don't talk about cannabis more than is required.

If you are stopped, address the officer respectfully. Pay attention to their requests, but do not risk incriminating yourself by volunteering more information than requested.

Remember to limit what you say to the minimum necessary to answer their questions. If you are asked about marijuana, volunteer your medical card—but again, do not over-volunteer unnecessary information. Even with a medical card, you may be asked to show the officers your cannabis so they can confirm you are not traveling with more than your allowed amount.

Provide only what is asked, and do not talk about cannabis more than is required. Do not rush the police or appear impatient or worried, but after you have provided the information they asked for, you can ask, “Officer, am I free to go?”

Remember, Help Is Available

Arizona cannabis patients have support from two great organizations that are committed to helping you if you are arrested or charged.

  • Arizona-NORML is the clearinghouse for all marijuana issues. They can refer you to lawyers in your area and give you an idea of what you can expect. Their hotline number is 928-234-5633. The state director is Mikel Weisser (that’s me), and you can reach me directly at
  • The Arizona Cannabis Bar Association is an organization of attorneys devoted to cannabis law. The association email is Their president is Gary Smith. His office number is 602-888-9969.

Mikel Weisser's Bio Image

Mikel Weisser

Mikel Weisser, a longtime cannabis writer and legalization advocate, is the executive director of Arizona NORML.

View Mikel Weisser's articles

  • Deb Staires

    Thanks Mikel for doing all you do for the patients of Arizona.

  • another long winded story that leaves out the simple question the sick and dying are asking.. WHAT IS STILL LEGAL TO USE?

    • Bryon

      Flower period : Edibles made with flower made from flower no canna butter.

  • Joshua Jason Molloy

    I keep looking for the definition of cannabis and marijuana. Every time the definition is the same and both words are used in the definition. Marijuana, cannabis, pot, weed, ganja, smoke, ect. is the same plant. If I squeeze juice from an apple isn’t it still an apple. When one makes strawberry jam isn’t the fruit still strawberries just concentrated? So no matter what type of extract or concentrate weed comes in isn’t it still marijuana, cannabis, pot, smoke.ect. since the definition is the same no matter what the word is?

    • Bryon

      It sucks but…. ( Not agreeing its just what the majority ruling says). Due to a previous ruling and case that further defined hashish and Cannabis as separate from marijuana. I moved to this state after medical was set up but it seems strange this was not directly addressed in the original writing of the medical act (Im assuming, we figured it would set new legal president with a few cases that came after this was when we started with edibles and concentrates in this state) : this ruling goes back to original outdated definition based on those products not being specifically drafted in the act. Its almost entirely bureaucratic in nature

      • Yoellah Benyahmeen

        I also migrated to Arizona from Oklahoma to obtain legal use. I am 63 yrs old with a rare genetic disease. Doctors in Oklahoma nearly killed me with opioids. I was overdosed on Fentanyl in the hospital! Vaping is easier on my lungs. This is insane!

        • SimianSlacker

          Remain calm and carry on. I carry a glove box lawyer with me at all times just incase I’m detained by the police. Follow the advice in the article above and you should be fine. Think about all the times you’ve been stopped by the police in the past. For me, it’s been 20 years since I’ve been pulled over and even then they never asked if I had any drugs in the car and wouldn’t I answer that question if I did. I would hand them my glove box lawyer and remain silent. Every lawyer friend I have says be as courteous and succinct as possible with the police, never volunteer anything. My father-in-law was a police office for 20 years, he said the moment the office pulls you over they are building a case against you, you’re not obligated to help them with that case. It’s pretty telling when an officer advises you to keep your mouth shut.

  • Joshua Jason Molloy

    Can we get into trouble for the resin that collects in our pipes? I was told that we can even get in trouble for ground up buds & kief even though it’s just a larger bud broke down into many micro buds; is this true?

  • Be Mindful and ask Can Arizona afford to lose 170,000 Medical Cannabis Patients this is alot of Tax Payers and they leave that means Higher Taxes

  • SimianSlacker

    The issue I have when articles point out that Marijuana is illegal at the federal level they fail to mention that the Justice Department is bared from spending any money on prosecuting MMJ Dispensaries, growers, or patients. It’s a provision that they keep tacking on to the budgets every September. The issue with federal legalization is that Pete Session is preventing the Senate from introducing new laws which in my book is an abuse of power. In general MMJ is legal but how it’s legal is filled with a bunch of technicalities and legal grey areas. Write your federal representatives and demand they fix this. At some point the pressure will be too great for Pete and Jeff to survive.

    My plan is to carry a “Glove Box Lawyer” (which is a letter you can find on the internet, I found mine in an FAQ by the Arizona Cannabis Bar on this issue) in my wallet and go about my business as usual. Until the AZDH issue guidance or bans concentrates nothing has changed. If you live in Maricopa County you’re probably OK. But if you live in Yavapi County I would be extra careful, seems like the DA and that judge are on a mission to dismantle the AMMA.

    Unfortunately, the current environment we find ourselves in today, I would also advise you take all the weed culture stickers off your car and make it look as boring as the rest of the cars on the road. I see people driving with Keef Kola stickers and what not on their cars. While freedom of speech should protect your right to put whatever you want on your car. Cops don’t seem to care, they can make up any reason they want to pull you over. There is a book by a successful drug dealer who drives a minivan and dresses like your average suburban dad to keep a low profile. His advice is the same advice I’ve given, look boring and you will live a boring life.