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Cannabis Cancer Patient Arrested in Arizona For Having Cannabis Oil In His Car

Emily Robertson
Adam Wanko arrested for having medicine in car

Medical cannabis is legal in Arizona, but some legal dispensaries continue to sell concentrates that are illegal. Patients are caught up in the confusion, like this cannabis cancer patient arrested for possessing the wrong type of medicine. 

Arizona police pulled over Adam Wanko for driving with a suspended license in March 2017. He knew he was in trouble, but he never expected to find himself in prison for carrying his prescription medical cannabis in the vehicle.

Legal Status of Cannabis in Arizona

Following legalization of medical cannabis in Arizona in 2010, a wave of confusion hit the state with regards to which cannabis products were allowed for consumption. Concentrates are also illegal. Thankfully, the Arizona Supreme Court will reconsider this status in January 2019. The high THC of resin-based products qualify as ‘narcotics’ without medical purpose. Patients with severe chronic pain and cancer pain, however, require these higher levels of THC to function.

The police officer asked the 48-year-old if he had any drugs on his person when he pulled Wanko over. Understanding that this likely included cannabis, Wanko provided the officer with his medical cannabis card. The officer then discovered cannabis oil in the center console. Wanki argued that he was a legal patient and this was his medicine. The officer did not agree.

Adam Wanko sitting at a table, tattoed with fedora on

Adam Wanko. Image Credit: Via

A Man in Jail Dying From Cancer And Denied His Medicine

Wanko was arrested on felony drug charges. Since he is too ill to work, he was unable to pay the $2,500 bail. It was two weeks before a friend was able to bail him out. Wanko is dying from stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma ands uses the cannabis to manage the side effects of the chemo he is using to extend his life. While imprisoned, Wanko was unable to see his doctors or continue his cannabis treatments. He also lapsed in his chemotherapy.

The officer wrote in his report: “My training and experience led me to believe [this] was marijuana or cannabis oil.” Very good, officer. But so what? It seems like a spoof on arrest procedures.

The Cannabis Confusion in Arizona

Wanko had purchased the oil from a legal medical cannabis dispensary. It has brought immeasurable benefit to his life in terms of helping him regain strength and weight. He had lost 80lbs due to chemo treatment. Emaciated and weak, Wanko watched his quality of life diminish until he started using cannabis.

Other patients have also run head on into trouble with the law for legally purchasing cannabis products that are not flower. Though disallowed by law, concentrates are still available for purchase in legal dispensaries. The law against the use of cannabis concentrates has lawyers and patients scratching their heads. Fortunately, the Arizona Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider the designation of concentrates as narcotics, but that case it still before the courts.

Public defender, Jared Keenan, who works for the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of people like Wanko, said of those prosecutors: “They are going after those least able to fight back: indigent, poor, criminal defendants.” Keenan went on to criticize the controversy around cannabis products: “At the time that they [patients] possessed this cannabis, they would have had no indication whatsoever that this is illegal.” (

Wanko is potentially looking at 10 years in prison due to a previous criminal record relating to drug felonies. It’s not likely that his cancer will allow him to serve that time regardless of the outcome of his upcoming case.

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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