Sunday, June 5, 2011

Medical-pot dispensary applications to be denied

State health Director Will Humble was putting the finishing touches Tuesday on the letter he will give to prospective medical-marijuana dispensary owners when he declines their applications.

Though Humble and his staff have spent months preparing for today's start of the dispensary application process, the federal lawsuit filed Friday by Gov. Jan Brewer has put the kibosh on it.

"We'll explain to them that we're unable to accept applications right now and thank them for their efforts," he said. "At least they'll have something when they leave to document that they tried."

The first letter likely will be handed to attorney Ryan Hurley and his clients, who plan to try filing a dispensary application this morning at the state Department of Health Services' headquarters and be turned away. Hurley said getting denied will set the stage for a lawsuit against the state for failing to implement the provisions of the voter-approved medical-marijuana law.

Humble is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, which seeks a declaratory judgment to determine if the new law conflicts with federal drug statutes and whether compliance with Arizona's voter-approved medical-pot law shields state employees, patients, dispensary owners and others from federal prosecution.

The state was to accept dispensary applications throughout the month of June and issue up to 126 permits by August. But Humble put the process on hold Friday, saying the court filing and advice from the Attorney General's Office made it legally dicey. The health department continues to accept applications for caregiver and patient ID cards as required under the law.

Hurley and his clients will not have an official application to submit, even though state rules require it, because Humble never posted one on the health department's website.

Attorney Lisa Hauser, who wrote Proposition 203 and represents several would-be dispensary owners, said she doesn't need to be turned away from Humble to take legal action. She said some of her clients may choose to file suit against the state for "failure to perform its duties under the act."

The federal lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke as defendants, along with voters who supported the ballot measure, patients and would-be dispensary owners. It contends that letters sent over the past several months by federal prosecutors have cast doubt on the legality of Arizona's law and the liability of state employees and others who abide by it. Arizona is among 16 states with medical-marijuana laws and all of them conflict with federal law, which outlaws the cultivation, sale and use of pot.

Dr. Nicholas Flores, a Scottsdale oncologist and potential dispensary medical director, said he agreed to be a defendant in the lawsuit because he believes patients deserve clarity on the issue. Federal prosecutors have said they won't prosecute patients but could go after growers and sellers.

"I'd like to see some kind of resolution for my patients," he said. "I'm tired of watching my 70-year-old patients try to figure out how to score an ounce in an alley."

by Mary K. Reinhart The Arizona Republic Jun. 1, 2011 12:00 AM

Medical-pot dispensary applications to be denied

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