State officials have begun the involved process of writing the rules that will regulate the burgeoning medical marijuana industry.
In November, Arizona voters approved Prop. 203, which legalized the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes.
The next step has been to set the rules by which patients, distributors and medical personnel will have to follow to participate in the system.
The Arizona Department of Health Services on Jan. 31 released a revised 58-page draft of the rules. A period of public input and suggestions is running through Feb. 18.
“It’s moving in a really positive direction,” said Andrew Myers, executive director of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association.
Myers said the revised rules package was a marked improvement from the initial offering and addressed some of what he viewed as outstanding issues.
But the latest batch does have some issues the association would like addressed.
In particular, the proposed lottery system to determine which applicant can open a medical marijuana dispensary, Myers said.
“We see that as problematic,” Myers noted, saying that lottery selection would not ensure that the most qualified or reputable operators get licensed.
The department would issue licenses throughout some of the 126 Community Health Analysis Areas, initially established in 2005 to collect vital statistics from population blocks.
As proposed, the Arizona Department of Health Services would accept applications from people interested in opening dispensaries and issue licenses to randomly selected applicants.
“It’s important to find high-quality operators,” Myers said. “We believe there is a way to do it that is an objective process.”
The department would issue one license for each Community Health Analysis Area, unless a city or town in the area requests additional dispensaries.
Myers said, based on population, Phoenix should have about 45 dispensaries. Under the proposed rules, the city would have 15.
How to monitor edible marijuana products is another area that Myers said needs improvement.
He said the rules don’t have detailed-enough stipulations for inventory control and chains of custody of the marijuana used in edible and infused products.
Any food-quality concerns would be addressed through the normal county health department inspection process, Myers said.
He anticipated that as much as 25 percent of the medical marijuana in the state would be delivered in edible form.
“That percentage is only going to increase over time,” Myers said.
Myers said using marijuana-infused products as opposed to smoking the drug is a preferable option for many.
“All the health risks with marijuana have to do with smoking, not the marijuana itself,” he said.
Myers said it likely would not be until late 2011 before the network of medical marijuana cultivation and dispensary operations is fully functional.
Public input now bring accepted
A period of public input and suggestions is running through Feb. 18. To comment or make suggestions on the draft rules, visit the department website at www.azdhs.gov.
Some of the provisions changed in the current draft include:
• Elimination of the requirement that a patient has maintained a professional relationship of at least one year with the physician who provided the medical marijuana recommendation and has visited that physician at least four times regarding the patient’s condition.
• A rule that would have required marijuana dispensaries to grow at least 70 percent of the product it distributes. The proposed rule was seen as a problem that could have led to shortages.
• Requirement that a dispensary provides copies of a certificate of occupancy from the local government where it plans to conduct business. Instead, a sworn statement to certify the dispensary is in compliance with local zoning rules.
• Labeling should include the statement: “Smoking marijuana can cause addiction, cancer, heart attack, or lung infection and can impair one’s ability to drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery.”