Tag Archives: medical marijuana


Medical marijuana legalization presents challenges

It seems as if the ball is finally rolling on the law Arizona voters passed two years ago that legalized medical marijuana.

Last week the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled the law constitutional, and this week the state’s first dispensaries opened in Glendale and Tucson.

The implementation of Arizona’s medical marijuana system has presented the Department of Health Services with several challenges, the biggest of which being that they were only given 120 days to set it up, DHS director Will Humble said.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws so far, which gave the DHS plenty of examples for their system.

“While our regulations didn’t come from any particular place, we did borrow ideas from some states,” Humble said. “But most of the ideas came from brainstorming sessions that we had internally.”

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, the voter-passed initiative that came into law in Nov. 2010, was ruled constitutional by Judge Michael Gordon. This ruling came in spite of County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s argument that marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The AMMA has allowed over 30,000 Arizona residents to become cardholders so far, a number that is only expected to grow.

The recent developments regarding medical marijuana in the state, as well as the ballot measures passed in Colorado and Washington this past election, have left many thinking that legalization is possible here as well.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that it will be legal in no time,” said Kathy Lane Inman, Executive Director of NORML in Arizona.

She said her next goal as head of the organization is to campaign to remove the felony charge that is currently in place for possession of any amount of marijuana.

“At the very least we can do that,” Inman said. “I believe in my heart that we can do that, and I’ve talked to attorneys and they feel the same.”

Humble believes legalization here is dependent on how things go in Colorado and Washington.

“If [they] end up having big community problems as a result of legalization then I think it’s probably unlikely that it’ll expand to Arizona,” Humble said. “But if there’s not a big upswing in community problems and this ends up being a popular thing in those two states, then it could spread to other states.”

Rick, a patient and employee at a delivery service for cardholders, who declined to give his last name, believes it’s only a matter of time.

“It’s going to take time for more people to get their medical cards,” Rick said. “People that are sick will start switching to [marijuana] treatments and their families will start seeing how it works.”

Although legalization may still be a long way off, the benefits of medical marijuana have already become apparent to many.

Inman, who is not a cardholder herself and who once doubted that marijuana has medicinal properties, said she has seen it improve the lives of several patients already.
“I met so many patients, real patients that were actually seeing results, not just cancer patients who felt like eating, it was people who had asthma, people with glaucoma who were able to see better,” Inman said.

Rick has also seen firsthand the ways that marijuana has benefited patients.

“I have this patient who’s about 70 years old, he has muscular dystrophy and his hand was paralyzed in a fist for over a year. He just got movement in his hand back,” he said. “I have other patients, this lady who has breast cancer and she goes to chemo, the medical marijuana treats a lot of the symptoms that she deals with with the chemo.”

Rick said he uses medical marijuana himself to treat back pain and recurring bells palsy. After playing sports in high school and then having an accident later on he hurt his back. After that, stress caused bell’s palsy, a paralysis that affected the left side of his face.

“Once I started using medical marijuana my paralysis went away. When I get stressed the paralysis will come back,” Rick said.

He said he was prescribed anti-depressants to combat the stress, with no results. He was also prescribed Vicodin for his back pain, which he disliked taking.

“It was too strong…it made me sick,” he said.

Inman, who also works with Phoenix March, an organization of women advocating for marijuana as a safe alternative to drugs and alcohol, agrees that prescription drugs can be dangerous.

“A lot of people have a lot of pain, a lot of people use prescription drugs for pain; it’s better that they use something natural. [Marijuana] is a medicine that’s been used for thousands of years,” Inman said.

Although marijuana has already helped thousands of people in Arizona alone, there are still plenty who don’t believe it has any medicinal value.

Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, frequently scoffs at cardholders in her columns, and has referred to medical marijuana as “a charade.”

Roberts is part of a shrinking mindset, however, and Rick believes it’s easy to see the truth about marijuana.

“If you talk to people who are patients and you hear their stories you’ll see that there really is a lot of good in this medicine,” he said. “It’s natural, it comes from the Earth. People put a lot of meds in their bodies every day and they don’t even know what’s in them.”

The legalization of medical marijuana has had legal benefits as well. According to the annual crime reports released by the Department of Public Safety, there were 16, 416 arrests for possession of marijuana throughout the state in 2011, which made up 5.59% of total arrests.

This is a number that is down 19% since 2009, when 20,378 people were arrested for possession.

While the drop may make some think that criminals make up a large portion of cardholders, the DHS believe they have made every effort possible to keep recreational users from taking advantage of the system.

“I think we’ve succeeded to the extent that we can, given the language that was in the voter-approved law. Our hands were tied in some respects,” Humble said. “I think we’ve done the best that we can given the statutes that we had to work with.”

The law that was passed does not allow for money raised to be used for anything but implementing the program, Humble said. Right now money made from fees goes towards paying lawyers to defend the DHS against lawsuits, as well as paying for contracts with the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health and the Arizona Board of Pharmacy.

The program’s slow start is very much due to the fact that the law didn’t account for the financial aspect of it, said Laura Oxley, public information officer for the DHS.

“There was no funding attached to the voter initiative and we needed to get started building an IT system,” Oxley said. “We borrowed money from other programs and then once we began issuing medical marijuana registry cards, we paid it back.”

Colorado’s ballot measure legalizing marijuana stipulated that the first $40 million dollars raised from taxing the plant be given to fund public schools. The ability to tax marijuana is something that makes many think it should be legalized and regulated by the government.

“They make a lot of money taxing alcohol and they make a lot of money taxing cigarettes,” Inman said. “The government could make a ton of money [taxing marijuana,] and that would take all the power out of the cartel’s hands. We could save lives below the border, too.”

Rick also thinks that legalization would be beneficial to the economy.

“I think the possibility of it being legalized in Arizona is going to be more about how it would stimulate the economy,” Rick said. “It won’t happen until the voters are ready for it.”


Medical marijuana dispensary opens in Glendale

Arizona’s first legal medical marijuana dispensary is to open in Glendale two years after voters approved the use of the drug to treat certain health problems such as chronic pain and cancer.

The Glendale dispensary is among 96 applicants chosen through a lottery system for 126 geographic areas across the state.

While the law allows medical marijuana applicants to also seek growing authorizations, that right will end when a dispensary opens within 25 miles of where a patient lives. The Glendale site’s opening will mean the end of legal growing for everyone in Phoenix.

Arizona Organix was set for its grand opening Thursday morning.

Earlier this week, a state judge ruled that Arizona’s medical marijuana law is constitutional and that federal drug laws don’t stand in the way of public officials implementing it.


Judge upholds Arizona’s medical marijuana law

Arizona’s medical marijuana law is constitutional and federal drug laws don’t stand in the way of public officials implementing the state law, a judge ruled Tuesday.

“This court will not rule that Arizona, having sided with the ever-growing minority of states and having limited it to medical use, has violated public policy,” Judge Michael Gordon of Maricopa County Superior Court wrote.

The case started over a dispute whether Maricopa County had to approve zoning for a dispensary in Sun City. It grew to include the larger legal question of whether federal drug laws pre-empt Arizona’s medical marijuana law.

Under Gordon’s ruling, county officials must provide the White Mountain Health Center with documentation that it complies with local zoning restrictions.

During an Oct. 19 hearing, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and its Arizona affiliate argued that the Arizona law is not pre-empted by federal drug laws. They said the state is allowed to make policy decisions on medical marijuana.

Lawyers for the state Attorney General’s Office and Maricopa County argued that the state’s medical marijuana law cannot be fully implemented because federal drug laws make it a crime to possess, grow or distribute marijuana and because federal laws are considered supreme over state statutes.

Arizona allows use of medical marijuana for such conditions as cancer, chronic pain and muscle spasms.

Arizona health officials have started licensing the first dispensaries in the state, and the first one is expected to open with days. More than 30,000 people already have cards authorizing them to possess and use medical marijuana.

Most of those people also had authorizations to grow marijuana, but those authorizations get phased out once a dispensary is licensed in their area and once their card with current growing authorizing comes up for renewal annually.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery told Gordon during the Oct. 19 hearing that county employees could face prosecution by the federal government for aiding and abetting drug crimes if the dispensaries open, while ACLU attorney Ezekiel Edwards said government workers really aren’t at risk of prosecution.

White Mountain Health Center sued the county after it rejected the facility’s registration certificate, which is part of the state requirement to become a medical-marijuana dispensary applicant.

The case took on broader focus when Montgomery and Attorney General Tom Horne made separate but coordinated requests in the court case, specifically targeting the Arizona law’s dispensary provisions.

Gordon had already ruled that state health officials could not decline to award a dispensary license to White Mountain because of the county’s inaction, but Horne and Montgomery asked the judge to dismiss White Mountain’s lawsuit on grounds that Arizona’s law is illegal.

Horne and Republican Gov. Jan Brewer previously asked a federal judge to rule on whether Arizona’s law is pre-empted. However, the judge refused, ruling in January that the state officials hadn’t established a genuine threat of prosecution of state employees for administering the law.

Also last January, a state trial judge ordered the state to proceed with allowing creation of dispensaries and lifted some of the state’s restrictions.

The state has issued use and growing permits to thousands of individuals, but Brewer for months balked at implementing the dispensary part of the law.


Arizona approves first medical marijuana dispensary

State health regulators have issued their first approval for a medical marijuana dispensary, but a lawyer for the operator says the facility won’t open right away.

Director of Health Services Will Humble says a dispensary applicant in Glendale received the approval late Thursday after passing an inspection without any major deficiencies.

The medical marijuana law doesn’t permit the state to identify the location, but attorney Ryan Hurley represents the operator.

Hurley says Arizona Organix still has some work to do and doesn’t plan to open its dispensary before Thanksgiving.

Once it opens, it means that medical marijuana card holders living within 25 miles of the facility will no longer be able to grow their own marijuana.


Arizona medical marijuana drawings use bingo balls

Arizona officials used a bingo machine with sets of numbered air-blown balls Tuesday as they picked winners from among hundreds of applicants for certificates to run medical marijuana dispensaries around the state.

The 4-hour drawing to pick winners among 404 applicants for 68 dispensary districts constituted a key implementation step for the voter-created health program whose legality is still in question because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. An additional 29 districts only had one applicant each so no drawing was held for those.

Health Services Director Will Humble said applicants allocated dispensary certificates now must file more paperwork and then pass various inspections within the next year before getting licenses to operate.

He said some dispensaries could open their doors within a few weeks if their operators’ preparations are well under way but that it may take others until next spring.

Humble said he was unaware of any other state’s medical marijuana program using a bingo system. He said his staff identified the bingo system after he said he wanted a selection method providing transparency while making random selections among qualified applicants for each certificate.

“We plagiarized a lot from other states, but we didn’t plagiarize this,” Humble said.

His department streamed video of the drawing on the Internet, and Humble said it would be posted on YouTube.

The drawing was held one day after state Attorney General Tom Horne issued a non-binding opinion saying the state legally cannot authorize distribution of marijuana because federal law trumps the 2010 voter-approved law creating the program. However, he said the drawings could proceed because it’s not the final step in the implementation process.

Gov. Jan Brewer’s administration initially resisted having to launch the dispensary system but since has proceeded with implementation after losing several court fights. In one case, a federal judge refused to rule on the federal pre-emption issue when raised by Brewer and Horne.

Nearly 30,000 people already have Arizona permits to use medical marijuana, but they’ve had to grow pot or get it from other permitted individuals until dispensaries begin operating. They’ll lose that authorization once a dispensary opens within 25 miles of where they live.

The Arizona medical marijuana law, put on the ballot by initiative and narrowly approved by voters, prohibits the department from identifying dispensary applicants, but there’s no prohibition on advertising or other self-identification by applicants or operators.

There originally were 486 dispensary applicants, but the number was reduced to 432 because some applicants or their applications were deemed ineligible or incomplete.

The law established 126 dispensary districts, but there were no applicants for 27 of those. Of the remaining 99, two were not included in the allocation process because of pending court cases.

Most of the competition for certificates was concentrated in the Phoenix and Tucson areas but also smaller cities such as Flagstaff, Coolidge urban areas and Coolidge in Pinal County. A district that includes Verde Valley communities in northeast Yavapai County had the most applicants with 14.

Blank spots on the dispensary map will include Indian reservations, where no applications were filed, but Humble said 98 percent of the state’s population would live within 25 miles of a dispensary.

Horne on Monday expressed confidence that a judge will block the dispensary process because of federal pre-emption as part of a pending court case involving one dispensary district in Maricopa County, but an attorney for dispensary operators said Horne’s confidence is misplaced.

“Right now it’s the law of the land,” attorney Ryan Hurley said Tuesday.


Arizona Medical Marijuana Program

Arizona Medical Marijuana Program Dispensary Application Simplified

Over the past nine months, the dispensary application portion of the Arizona Medical Marijuana program has been on hold. As early as April 2012, applications will be accepted under certain conditions.

Only landlords with properly zoned locations that are not near schools, churches, public parks, daycare centers and other prohibited areas will be qualified to apply using a dispensary location form provided by Arizona Dispensary Solutions.

Here are some examples of zoning requirements codified by local municipalities:

  • City of Phoenix — C-2 (Commercial)
  • City of Scottsdale — I-1 (Industrial preferred)
  • City of Tucson — C-2 and C-3 (Commercial)
  • Pima County — CB-2, CI-1, CI-2 and CI-3 (Commercial and industrial)
  • Marana — RC, LI and HI (Commercial & Industrial)

Dispensary licenses are awarded using a health zone known as a CHAA (Community Health Analysis Area). Currently, Arizona has 126 CHAAs, but many of them fall on Native American reservations where dispensaries are not allowed. As for the remaining CHAAs, dispensary operators should be able to show an operating capital of $150,000 per application, as well as upfront rent payments, application fees and consulting fees.

In addition to this, a complete and compliant dispensary application must include patient record-keeping policies, cultivation plans, inventory control processes and systems, patient education materials, security plan and a nonprofit business plan.

The cost of creating an application depends on the amount of work done by the consultative service provider as well as the time frame in which it must be completed. The starting fee for customized applications is $10,000. A successful application will show the dispensary location as a patient-centric wellness center rather than a marijuana shop.

Landlords with a prospective applicant should not only verify the financial stability of their clientele, but also the business plan and materials of the applicant. The next set of DHS rules will eliminate disclosures of bankruptcy and financial delinquency, meaning landlords may have to conduct due diligence.

Arizona Dispensary Solutions values client confidentiality and can be contacted at (480) 442-0190.
For more information, visit arizonadispense.com.

Medical Marijuana, AZRE Magazine May/June 2011

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Operators Deal With Regulations, Landlords

Don’t look for medical marijuana dispensaries to pop up next door to your neighborhood drug store anytime soon.

Cities are wrestling with a host of issues to determine where the new businesses can set up shop, even as the Arizona Department of Health Services tries to figure out who can operate them and who can use them.

After publishing preliminary guidelines, followed by a period of public comment, ADHS issued start-up regulations on March 28.

The state agency divided Arizona into 126 community health analysis areas, or CHAAs, based on population density. The agency will issue a maximum of 124 dispensary licenses, with no more than one license within a CHAA, says Will Humble, ADHS director.

State regulators will start taking applications on June 1 and will dole out licenses starting in August after vetting the sites and the potential business owners, Humble said.

If more than one acceptable application is submitted within a CHAA’s boundaries, a lottery will decide who gets the license, he added. The first dispensary in the state could debut by fall. Humble said he expects to issue 90 to 100 licenses within the first full year of start-up. After that, ADHS will revisit the rules to determine if some tweaking is necessary.

“By the end of a year, we’ll know where the qualified patients are,” he says.

Proposed dispensary sites must comply with the zoning requirements of the municipalities they fall into, so cities have been scrambling to get zoning in place and start vetting potential locations, otherwise, they risk the state issuing licenses in unsuitable areas, says Thomas Ritz, Glendale senior planner.

Glendale passed zoning guidelines on Feb. 22, and the rules are similar to those of most cities in regard to type of site, such as office or industrial. In addition, a dispensary must be 1,320 feet from schools, 500 feet from residences, and one mile from another dispensary, Ritz says.

Scottsdale will allow medical marijuana dispensaries on campuses, and within 2,000 feet of another dispensary. Tucson will allow them to do business in retail centers, as long as they are the required distance from schools and residences.

Tucson, among the first off the block to embrace the new businesses, completed its zoning rules in November, says Craig Gross, Tucson’s deputy director for planning and development. But Gross pointed out the complexities of working within the state’s guidelines.

Tucson has 10 CHAAs within its city limits, he added, but because CHAAs are based on population density irrespective of municipality boundaries, nearly all are partly in other cities, towns or even unincorporated county land.

“That makes it interesting,” Gross says.

Tucson has a handful of applications and a dozen or so serious inquiries in some stage of processing, Gross said, but he doesn’t know if there are sites also in process by other government agencies for the same CHAAs.

And in Scottsdale, which houses two CHAAs but has about the same number of applicants or pre-applicants in the pipeline as Tucson, most of its potential operators are opting for the Scottsdale Airpark area, says Kira Wauwie, project coordinator for the city’s dispensary rollout.

Meanwhile, Glendale is bracing for a deluge of dispensary operator wannabees.

“We had a neighborhood meeting, and we had about 35 people learning, listening — a healthy stream of people asking questions,” Ritz says. “We’ll see how many turn in applications.”

But first those hopeful applicants have to snag sites that conform to state and city regulations. And even in this high-vacancy real estate market, potential landlords are leery of housing dispensaries.

“I’m surprised that individuals are finding it tough to get into a building they like,” Gross says. “Property owners don’t necessarily want to rent to them.”

Arizona real estate brokers confirm that many building owners are reluctant to lease space for dispensaries, despite the numerous hoops the potential business owners need to jump through to get a license.

Gross says building owners are slow to the table because the process is so new, and he thinks more will opt in now that ADHS rules have been set in stone — or at least for a year.

For more information about medical marijuana dispensaries, visit the Arizona Department of Health Services’ website at azdhs.gov.

AZRE Magazine May/June 2011