Saturday, February 5, 2011

Marijuana-dispensary rules listed

The state health department on Monday released its second draft of medical-marijuana rules, which propose a process for selecting and distributing dispensaries and reduce up-front costs for dispensary applicants.

The release kicks off a public-comment period. More than 1,000 people commented on the first set of rules. The Arizona Department of Health Services will have final say on how to implement the state's medical-marijuana program.

In November, voters passed Proposition 203, which will allow qualifying patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to receive up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks from dispensaries or cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants if they live 25 miles or farther from a dispensary. The program should be fully functioning by late summer or early fall, after dispensaries have had time to grow the plants.


"I think we put (the public comments) together in some responsible package," said Will Humble, state health-department director. "We closed a lot of gaps from the initial draft, but there's still a long ways to go."

Changes to medical-marijuana rules would:

- Distribute one dispensary to each Community Health Analysis Area, a geographical breakdown of the state that the DHS previously used to track public-health statistics.

There are 126 of these health areas in the state, close to the number of dispensaries allowed.

Humble said that using the health areas to determine dispensary locations helps accomplish the department's two objectives for this draft: Ensure people in rural parts of the state can access marijuana, and minimize the number of people who can grow marijuana at home.

The DHS has used the health areas for years after the Arizona Legislature mandated that the department collect public-health data from different areas and populations across the state. The department divided the areas based on their geography and population density. If there are numerous qualified dispensary applications for one health area, the department will randomly select one application for that region.

- Amend requirements for the ongoing physician-patient relationship.

The new draft removes the definition of an ongoing physician-patient relationship, which previously required patients to have seen the doctor for at least one year and had at least four visits for the debilitating condition.

The new draft has no required number of visits or time period to establish the relationship.

Instead, doctors who recommend medical pot would attest to conducting an in-person physical examination and reviewing the patient's medical records, responses to conventional medications and therapies, and history of prescription-drug use. The doctors also would agree to provide continued care and assessment of the patient's use of medical pot.

The department has partnered with the state's medical-licensing boards to monitor doctors' records of medical-marijuana recommendations and investigate suspicious activity.

Lisa Wynn, executive director of the Arizona Medical Board, said the board recognizes medical marijuana as "one more tool the doctors will have to alleviate suffering for patients."

- Create a two-step dispensary-application process.

The initial draft rules did not specify how the department would approve applications, and prospective applicants were wary of the up-front costs involved in opening a dispensary.

The new draft would require dispensary agents to first apply for a registration certificate, which would include a background check and basic information such as location.

The agent would then apply for an operating license, which requires more detailed plans, such as a site plan and a certificate of occupancy.

- Remove the 70-30 rule, which would have required dispensary agents to grow at least 70 percent of their marijuana and prohibited them from buying from or selling to other dispensaries more than 30 percent.

Instead, the department proposed more requirements for inventory control.

Dispensaries would implement policies for tracking, packaging, accepting and acquiring marijuana from patients and other dispensaries, and disposing of unusable marijuana.

Dispensaries also would need to document all chemical additives used in the cultivation of each batch of marijuana and where the marijuana seeds originated.

The public-comment period for the second draft of rules ends Feb. 18. The department will hold four public meetings from Feb. 14 to 17, in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson.

Read the proposed rules andsubmit comments at azdhs.gov/prop203.

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee The Arizona Republic Feb. 1, 2011 12:00 AM





Marijuana-dispensary rules listed

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