The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has quietly been creating marijuana extracts to train officers and help prosecutors for the past four years.
MCSO confirmed the existence of the program to the Arizona Mirror in a statement saying it is part of the Maricopa County Drug Suppression Task Force.
The program has been in operation since 2015 and is intended to help provide training and to help officers “understand the methods from which cannabis is manufactured from dried marijuana flower,” MCSO said.
Arizona Cannabis Monthly first reported on the revelation that the agency had been working on making its own extracts for the purposes of testing and training.
The program had been a secret for four years until local marijuana attorney Tom Dean was approached by another attorney about a case involving the manufacturer of marijuana extracts.
The attorney in the other case had sent Dean a report by MCSO that detailed the agency’s marijuana extraction lab.
Dean, who serves as legal counsel to marijuana advocacy group NORML, said that MCSO has been creating its own extracts for “several months now” in part as a response to a recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling.
However, it appears that the agency has been engaged in the practice for at least 5 years, according to a report provided to the Mirror.
Earlier this year, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that marijuana extracts sold by dispensaries and used by medical marijuana patients are legal and are covered by Arizona’s voter-approved medical marijuana law.
The case stems from the March 2013 arrest of Rodney Christopher Jones, who was arrested in Yavapai County with hashish, a popular marijuana extract. Jones had an Arizona medical marijuana card.
The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, which is led by prominent marijuana critic Sheila Polk, charged Jones with possession of cannabis, which it argued was barred under Arizona’s criminal laws and not protected under the medical marijuana statutes, even if someone had a medical marijuana card.
Prosecutors said the medical marijuana law covered only the plant itself, not extracts used in things like hashish, tinctures or edibles.
Patients in Arizona can possess up to 2.5 ounces of the plant or the equal amount of that in concentrates, though no standard exists for determining exactly how much that is.
“They want to come up with a ratio, if you will, for flower to concentrates,” Dean said. The decision in the Jones case clearly stated that the amount of allowed concentrates directly correlates with the amount of allowable flower product.
According to Dean, the Arizona Department of Health Services is working on its own ratio, but if MCSO testing leads to a different ratio, it is unclear which agency’s ratio would be the prevailing one.
The Arizona Department of Health Services told the Arizona Mirror it has not begun testing on concentrates yet, and is not working with the Sheriff’s Office.
MCSO confirmed that the Jones ruling had an impact on the Maricopa County Drug Suppression Task Force.
In June, after the ruling, the detectives with the task force took the information they had gathered from the testing for an “information only report,” MCSO said.
However, another report, provided to the Mirror by Dean, appears to show that MCSO has been engaged in the creation and testing of marijuana extracts for at least five years.
In the MCSO report, a detective states that he has “been conducting chemical and mechanical extractions in training for students to watch to understand the process for at least 5 years.”
“This group has been conducting weekly extractions of cannabis oil using non-polar (butane) extraction method since March 2018,” the detective says in the report.
“For over 4 years the unit has been training first responders on the hazards of butane honey oil extractions, and the methods cannabis is manufactured from marijuana,” MCSO told the Mirror. “For example, one method is to run butane over marijuana to show how basic cannabis oil is manufactured, as well as the flammable and explosive hazards of that process.”
MCSO confirmed that it does not work with ADHS or other law enforcement agencies, though two Phoenix Police officers do work on the task force.
“(The task force) provides officers and investigators training and prepares expert testimony for prosecuting agencies throughout the state,” MCSO said. “Therefore, when the question of ‘can a person possess (x amount) of cannabis and still be covered under the immunities offered under the (medical marijuana laws)?’ arises, (the task force) needs to develop a baseline to answer or opine based on training and experience and support that with facts and evidence if possible.”
Dean is skeptical of MCSO’s intentions and what it means for medical marijuana patients in the state.
“It matters to patients right now, because it can mean the difference between immunity and felony conviction,” Dean said. “These little interpretations can have massive impact on people’s lives.”
ADHS said it is still working on getting its testing operations running, as recent changes to the voter enacted marijuana law created new testing protocols for both the state and dispensaries to follow.