Adam Wanko was getting hopeless when he decided to take the traditional, long and arduous cancer treatment route to battle his throat cancer in 2017. But then his oncologist recommended medical cannabis to ease the symptoms such as nausea and help him regain his lost appetite, two of the major side effects of chemotherapy.
Wanko obeyed and decided to change the course of his treatment. He, like the 180,000 other people in the state of Arizona obtained a medical cannabis card. He then purchased wax, a type of concentrate, from a local dispensary, convinced that what he was doing was legal.
On March 17, 2017, Wanko was stopped for a traffic violation and the next thing he knew, he was facing ten years in prison for possession of a narcotic drug—the wax that he legally bought a few days back. “I’m being prosecuted right now for something that I wasn’t even aware that I was breaking the law, and actually I don’t think I was breaking the law,” Wanko told ABC 15. “I think it’s a misinterpreted law right now.”
County attorney Sheila Polk’s explained the situation by claiming that the medical cannabis law applies to cannabis in plant form only and that any other derivatives are illegal in the state of Arizona. Although she failed to explain why her office hasn’t prosecuted any dispensaries in Yavapai county, where Wanko was arrested, for selling these derivatives under state license.
“When you go into a store licensed by the state, you have no notice that it’s illegal,” said Jared Keenan, an attorney, with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “In fact, you have every notice that it’s perfectly legal.”
Polk’s comments were criticized broadly. It has created a legal oblivion, where cardholders are unsure what is legal to purchase and what would land them in prison.
A spokesperson from the ACLU commented by saying that for some patients, there’s no other option but to purchase cannabis derivatives, “specifically young children who suffer from awful seizure disorders who can only get relief from CBD oils and THC oils.”
Rep. Tony Rivero, a Republican from Peoria, introduced House Bill 2149, which would redefine what medical cannabis would mean in the state. If the bill is signed into law, cardholders would be safe from prosecution for possession of cannabis in any form. Adam Wanko’s case is still in a precarious position and he could be sent to prison before a new law is passed. “If anyone could tell me how I could do things differently, from the time my oncologist told me to explore marijuana, to the time I got arrested, I’m all ears,” he said.