Managing Medical Marijuana
Now That Absolute Prohibition of Marijuana Has Ended, The Battle For Legal Profits Has Begun
An image of some California issued medical marijuana bottles and a marijuana pipe.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine .com
Feb. 22, 2011 — The public has had their chance to speak on the implementation of medical marijuana in Arizona.
The hundreds — if not thousands — of would-be dispensary operators can now only wait to see what Arizona Department of Health Services includes in their final rules, expected at the end of next month.
The final set of public hearings on the measure were held last week in Flagstaff, Tucson and Tempe. Written submission of comments on the second round of proposed rules ended Friday. The several hundred that attended the late afternoon meeting at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law also included nearly 100 oral comments.
Nearly four months after the passage of the initiative that legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, three issues have dominated the debate: licensing requirements and eligibility, out-of-state participants, and the requirement that a licensed medical professional must be involved in the operation.
At the Tempe meeting Tuesday, the main battle line in the process — the rules for awarding the approximately 126 mandated licenses — was on full display in the oral comments. The proposed rules call for a “random selection” of an applicant if there are multiple applications in a specific area.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, the group behind the passage of Prop. 203, was the first to provide comment and reiterated the view that a stringent application process which includes a bond or proof of financing is necessary to best provide responsible services to patients. Those best identified as “mom and pop” owners and supporters, said they just want a fair chance at a proposed lottery for areas where there are multiple license applicants.
“We believe a lottery is inconsistent with the intent of Prop. 203. It fails to achieve the goal of high standards the vast majority of Arizonans have, which our association shares, and which thoughtful community leaders and policy makers will demand. Because it will not reveal the best, most qualified, and most capable operators, it creates an almost unlimited number of unintended consequences,” said Joe Yuhas, of Riester public relations and a spokesman of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association.
Yuhas said one of the unintended consequences is that unnamed “individuals and organizations” who are, “already regulated” by DHS are reluctant to consider applying for a license knowing that it will just be a game of chance. Riester public relations, Yuhas’ employer, represents Pfizer as well as the Scottsdale Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Casino Arizona as well as other clients.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Association has been accused by the Association of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Professionals, a competing medical marijuana group, and its leader, Allan Sobol, as operating “in collusion” with DHS. The allegation claims that The Arizona Medical Marijuana Association is spearheading a, “elitist and monopolistic program where only the wealthy, influential, informed sponsors of (The Arizona Medical Marijuana Association) will qualify for one of the 125 licenses.”
The lottery issue was the most frequent topic of oral comments with opinions spread throughout the spectrum.
“It (operating a marijuana dispensary) is difficult, its hard, and (the rules) should be,” said resident Kip Crider. “But don’t shut out the common man.”
Crider said he has family members that own part of cultivation operations on Colorado and by their estimations, the dispensaries in Arizona must be prepared for demand of around 450 pounds per month.
Sparks have also been flying on the issue of residency for applicants. The proposed rules declared that a three-year residence in Arizona was mandatory, much to the chagrin of medical marijuana operators from other states who hope to operate or assist Arizona based operations.
“I would like the committee to consider that not all things done and being done in other states and the country for that matter are bad,” said David Couch of Yellowstone Patient Care in Billings, Mont. “If the committee will consider not seceding from the Union, I believe the impact of importing existing knowledge and products will better serve the people of Arizona.”
Many would-be dispensary licensees also spoke out on the proposed rule that would mandate that each dispensary employ a medical director that is either on the premises during operating hours or on-call. The rules also state that the medical director be a licensed physician. Opponents to the rule say it places an added financial burden on dispensary owners that could cause prices to skyrocket.
One commenter, Bill Sories, suggested that instead of mandating a medical director for each dispensary, DHS should recruit, pay and manage a team of young, inexperienced doctors to review the program. He cited the fact that marijuana does not interact with other medications and cannot cause death as why new doctors would be acceptable.
Dr. Alan Sachs, who said he has been approached to be a medical director for a group of dispensaries, wondered how any medical director could be qualified to address all of the conditions for which medical marijuana might be prescribed.
“Some of the conditions that the patients have are really beyond the scope of a family practitioner or a general practitioner or any field where the physician might be drawn from,” he said.
Randy Brown of the Arizona Health And Wellness Foundation, shared sentiment common to most speakers: Thanking the DHS for the difficult job of managing the transition from prohibition of marijuana to legalization for medical use.
“I can’t imagine how difficult it is to wrangle the Arizona Gold Rush,” Brown said.