The Arizona Court of Appeals refused Maricopa County’s appeal to delay the Superior Court’s order that requires county officials to process a zoning application for White Mountain Health Center, a Sun City medical marijuana dispensary, by December 24th.

Deputy County Attorney Tom Liddy said county employees fear they could be prosecuted for aiding and abetting marijuana trafficking that is illegal under federal drug laws.

Arizona’s appellate judges rejected the County’s claim that employees could face federal prosecution for processing the zoning clearance that White Mountain Health Center needs in order to open their medical marijuana dispensary.

Jeffrey Kaufmann, the attorney representing the dispensary owners, and Kelly Flood, an attorney for ACLU, answered the County’s claim by reminding the Court that there have been no federal prosecutions against government employees who have facilitated medical marijuana programs, neither here in Arizona nor in other states with medical marijuana laws. They noted that it would be difficult to prove county employees have criminal intent when they are simply doing the job they’ve been assigned.

The Court of Appeals gave no reason for denying the stay on Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon’s December 3rd ruling that the county must process White Mountain Health Center’s zoning application.

Judge Gordon’s ruling earlier this month also addressed the biggest issue raised in the underlying suit, saying that Arizona’s medical marijuana program is not preempted by federal law. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has appealed that ruling and is waiting for the Court of Appeals to take the case.

If the County’s appeal had been granted, they would have been able to avoid processing White Mountain Health Center’s zoning permit until the Court of Appeals rules on the underlying case.

In the meantime, various other local governments in Arizona, including other cities in Maricopa County, have already provided clearances for dispensaries. As of this week, there are three medical marijuana dispensary locations that have been approved and are in operation throughout Arizona.

After the Court of Appeals ruling was issued, Liddy said the County would comply with the December 24th deadline set by Judge Gordon.