Bills Buzz

The state Legislature tries to rain on the MMJ parade

A lot of things are happening with Arizona's medical-marijuana program—judges are ruling right and left in federal and state court; a humbled Will Humble is moving ahead with dispensary applications at the Department of Health Services; and Gov. Jan has leaped off her MMJ high horse for the time being and moved on to eating presidential crow.

Arizona is 0-for-2 on lawsuits right now, having lost bids to find out if federal agents will storm state offices to arrest employees and to restrict who can open dispensaries. Because the state was legally smacked down, wheels are quickly turning toward the day when we can to walk into a shop and buy MMJ. Humble said on his blog on Jan. 25 that dispensaries could open as soon as summer.

But a lawsuit pending against the state could make dispensaries a thing of the past even before they exist, and it might be the best thing for everyone.

Allan Sobol was the manager of Phoenix's 2811 Club, a for-profit Phoenix cannabis center that last year started charging a membership fee to let patients and caregivers exchange meds in a safe, guarded environment. The club never sold MMJ and was not involved in the transfers. It was a good way for someone who doesn't know a caregiver to find one, and a place where patients could offer their extra medication to other patients.

In October, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided the club, taking computers, books, files and other "evidence," while reassuring everyone there that no one would be arrested. The 2811 Club was shelved, though scores of similar clubs—Sobol estimates 100—have popped up all over the Phoenix area. He thinks the clubs make perfect sense, and so do I.

Cannabis clubs seem to be flying under the radar in Tucson, though four can be found at One has a menu listing prices per gram, per eighth of an ounce, etc., which soars a little to close to the sun of illegality for my taste. Our MMJ wings are only made of wax, after all. I have been to Tumbleweeds Health Center, and it seems like a pretty tight ship, although I have chosen to find my own grower/caregiver—no offense to more commercial operations.

In any event, Sobol asked a Superior Court judge to rule on the legality of the clubs. If he wins, it will quickly make our future dispensaries a moot point.

"Why would any person want to spend half a million dollars and go through all that regulation, when they can, for a few thousand dollars, open up a club and accomplish the same thing? There would be no need for dispensaries," Sobol said.

But state Rep. Amanda Reeve, a Phoenix Republican, is quickly becoming Sobol's nemesis. Last month, Reeve introduced two bills that would change statutes concerning MMJ: One would make it illegal to have MMJ on a school campus, and one would have made what the clubs do illegal.

The first, HB 2349, passed the House Education Committee on Feb. 2. Thankfully, the second one died on the vine when legislators replaced it with a public-works bill. HB 2350 would have created a presumption of a transfer for value (which is illegal) if a patient had to pay membership or service fees to get MMJ. It would have put Sobol and Tumbleweeds south of the law. Ouch.

So although Gov. Jan and her attorney general have thus far been schooled on the law, the Sonoran Desert dust is far from settled. Sobol doesn't know when his case will be decided—it's still in the discovery phase—but he is confident the judge will rule in his favor. Superior Court Judge Dean Fink declined to issue an injunction closing the clubs until the case is settled, hinting that he sees nothing illegal about them. Time will tell.

In the end, I hope they all just give up the fight against MMJ, and let patients and caregivers do their thing their way.

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