The legal immunity provided physicians by Arizona’s medical marijuana law for certifying patients to use pot only applies to the medical certifications, not other conduct such as making false statements in documents, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The high court’s unanimous ruling overturns a lower court’s decision that upheld dismissal of forgery and fraud charges against a physician on grounds that he was protected under the immunity provision of the pot law.
Dr. Robert Gear was charged in Navajo County in 2013 after being accused of signing a medical marijuana certification for a police informant based on a physical exam but before receiving a year’s worth of the patient’s records.
Officials say the state-required form completed by Gear in September 2012 said he had reviewed the records.
Gear’s lawyer argued that the immunity provision applied to any conduct related to certification, but the state Supreme Court said that went too far and “could lead to troublesome outcomes that would be difficult to square with” the wording and intent of the law.
For example, such an interpretation could extend immunity to theft or sexual assault committed during a physical exam for certification, Justice Clint Bolick wrote in the ruling.
The ruling also brushed away a defense argument that allowing Gear to be prosecuted by narrowly interpreting the immunity provision would chill doctors’ willingness to participate in the medical marijuana program and make it harder for patients to obtain certifications.
“Physicians are trained and relied upon to be scrupulous,” Bolick wrote.
The ruling noted that a 2008 California Supreme Court decision similarly limited immunity from prosecution in a case involving medical marijuana caregivers.
With the ruling Friday, the charges against Gear were reinstated and his case will return to trial court for further proceedings.
The opinion was the first authored by Bolick, the court’s newest member. He was appointed in January to fill a retirement vacancy.
A call to Gear for comment on the court’s ruling wasn’t immediately returned Friday.
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