Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rules about medical marijuana in Arizona released

The state health department on Monday released its final version of medical-marijuana rules, which detail how dispensaries will be chosen and distributed throughout the state.

And the Arizona Department of Health Services director said the integrity of the program "is in the hands of Arizona's physicians."

The release wraps up the department's four-month rule-making process. Arizona's medical-marijuana program officially begins April 14, when the department will begin accepting patient applications. Prospective dispensary owners can apply in June. The program should be fully functioning by the end of the year.


In November, voters passed Proposition 203, which will allow qualifying patients with certain debilitating medical conditions to receive up to 2½ 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. There will be between 120 and 126 dispensaries throughout the state.

It will take some time for the dispensaries to get up and running. ADHS officials estimate that by this November, there will be between 70 and 90 dispensaries operating.

Since early February, the health department received more than 1,450 electronic comments on the second draft of its rules. The agency held four public forums -- in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson -- where about 150 people gave input.

"Ultimately, whether it becomes recreational over time is directly related to whether physicians across the state take this seriously and really make full assessments of patients, and only write certifications for people who really do have debilitating medical conditions," said Will Humble, ADHS director. He said that "it would take only about 30 doctors" writing certifications for people without valid conditions "to turn this into a recreational marijuana program."

Humble said that one to two years from now, "probably less than 100,000 people," will be qualified patients.
He added, however, that in states like Colorado with a similar program, the number has moved to about 2 to 3 percent of the population, which would be as many as 190,000 Arizonans.

Humble said one of the main problems he expects in the first couple of weeks is patients submitting invalid doctor certifications. Several doctors have been writing medical-pot certifications before the department finalized its rules.

"(Patients have been) walking away with sheets of paper that they believe are certifications that we'll accept. The fact is, we will only accept certifications that are on the department-provided form," he said.

The main changes made to the final version are regarding selecting and distributing dispensaries:

- Dispensary selection

The final version builds on the previous draft's two-step process of approving applications. Dispensary agents will first apply for a registration certificate, which would include a background check and basic information such as location. The agent then will apply for an operating license, which requires more detailed plans.

ADHS has added more requirements to the first application step. For example, applicants must include a business plan that shows projected expenditures before and after the dispensary is operational, and the projected revenue.

- Dispensary distribution

There will be one dispensary in 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.
If there is one qualified applicant for one health area, the department will approve the dispensary. But if there is more than one qualified application for the same health area, prospective dispensaries will be evaluated on a set of standards: whether the dispensary has access to $150,000 in startup capital; whether the applicant has been bankrupt; whether anyone with a 20 percent or more interest in the dispensary is a board member or a principal member; whether the applicant is a resident of Arizona for three years; and whether the applicant has outstanding fees, such as federal, state and local taxes and child support.

If the applicants rank the same, the department will choose dispensaries randomly.

One of the reasons this provision was included in the final rules was to encourage applicants to set up shop in rural areas, Humble said.

If applicants do not meet the standards, they will have a better chance applying for a less-competitive health area.

This is how the medical-marijuana program will look like in Arizona:

Qualified patients or their designated caregivers can apply electronically through the health department's website. Doctors must certify in writing that their patient likely will benefit from using marijuana as a medicine to treat his or her debilitating disease. These conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.

Doctors who recommend medical pot would attest to conducting an in-person physical examination and reviewing the patient's medical records, profile on the state controlled-substances monitoring database, responses to conventional medications and therapies, and history of prescription-drug use.

There will be a medical director on-call or on-site at each dispensary. They would make sure patients or their caregivers document changes in their symptoms and track their marijuana usage. They also would ensure dispensaries provide educational materials. Medical directors would not be allowed to write medical-marijuana recommendations for patients.

Dispensaries can acquire marijuana only from its cultivation site, another dispensary or that dispensary's cultivation site, or qualifying patients or their caregivers who cultivate marijuana. Dispensaries will be able to sell marijuana-infused food products and transport marijuana.

Until dispensaries start operating, all qualifying patients or their qualifying caregivers may grow their own marijuana.

Read the rules at www.azdhs.gov/prop203

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Bill Hermann The Arizona Republic Mar. 28, 2011 12:58 PM




Rules about medical marijuana in Arizona released

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