More than 1.67 million Arizona voters provided ballots for state Proposition 203 earlier this month (to legalize use of medical marijuana), and the proposition won by a margin of only 4,341 votes. This sent the state scrambling for money to fund the project, and also to make the many ambiguous portions of the new law more clear.
Arizona became the 15th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana, after residents in the state gathered more than a quarter million signatures to place the proposition on the ballot.
Nearly every law enforcement agency in the state spoke out against the proposition, but Arizona voters didn’t pay much attention. The new law permits licensed physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/ AIDS, hepatitis C and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the rulemaking body for Proposition 203, has its hands full in order to fulfill its duties to get the program up and running. The new law states that ADHS must implement an electronic database that keeps records on medical-marijuana users and dispensaries. The law also mandates that the ADHS present program rules and regulations – and all of this must be done by late March. Pot is expected to be available through the program by summer 2011.
The ADHS is not sure how the program will be funded, but it is moving forward nonetheless. The department expects to spend between $600,000 to $800,000 to set up the program. Part of that figure includes the ADHS’s approval process for dispensaries. The new law states that no more than 124 total dispensaries can be opened in Arizona, and the ADHS has already divided them into three categories: cultivating facilities, marijuana “bakeries” that prepare the product, and the actual retail stores that sell it.
The ADHS is scrambling to do research on the other 14 states (and the District of Columbia) that have approved marijuana programs, in order to help eliminate mistakes and quickly establish a program that is effective. That could be a challenge. One reason is that there may be a loophole in the current law, which states that patients can qualify for pot if they have a “chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces . . . severe and chronic pain.”
The ADHS is worried that the Arizona law, if loosely regulated, could allow just about anyone to walk into a doctor’s office and obtain medical marijuana if they complain of chronic pain. Colorado’s law is loosely regulated, and many patients simply search for a doctor who is known to commonly prescribe the drug. Arizona residents who are approved for the program can buy up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
Another challenge presented by the law is that any Arizona resident who lives more than 25 miles from a retail dispensary is allowed to grow up to 12 plants on their own. The law does not stipulate if the Arizona health department, or law enforcement, is allowed to access the private properties where these marijuana plants are grown.
The ADHS will hold public meetings and solicit online input from Arizona residents this year as it builds the medical marijuana program from scratch.
Here’s a list of the states that have approved programs for the use of medical marijuana.
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