Fear and The Man

While the process of opening dispensaries drags, the number of registered MMJ patients lags

In a perfect world, we would all be freely exchanging marijuana for money like we trade our fine legal tender for bread or bananas or apples or Trek Madone bicycles. But we don't.

The Man here in the great state of Arizona has made sure of that, putting a crimp in our collective style and gumming up the medical-marijuana system with all kinds of regulations and rules and Do Thises and Don't Do Thats. Those rules and regulations are grinding along ever so slowly in Phoenix this week, where state officials are gearing up to let a handful of dispensaries swing open doors to let the masses (OK, not quite the masses; more on that later) pick and choose freely among the buds.

The state got almost 490 applications for MMJ dispensaries. Almost all of them—about 460—were approved, and a lottery will determine which applicants get permission to open. All 10 dispensary districts in or near Tucson had applicants, meaning that up to 10 dispensaries could open in the Old Pueblo. That can't happen soon enough, in my eyes, but it might be a while.

First, the state will issue the registration certificates on Aug. 7. After that, potential operators will have about a year to get ready for inspection. Inspectors will look under tables and inside filing cabinets and through nooks and crannies, and if the operators have played their cards right, they will get approval to operate.

At least one Tucson location was built to the inspection standards—Green Halo Caregiver Collective, near Prince Road and Interstate 10. A raid July 10 left GHCC in shambles (see "Under Arrest," July 19), but operator Ken Sobel is confident the raid will not derail his dispensary plans.

The numbers: Arizona edged closer to 30,000 medical-marijuana patients by the end of June, when there were 29,495 patients statewide, according to the latest monthly report from the Arizona Department of Health Services. That might sound like a lot of people, but as I have said before in this space, it seems like a pretty paltry sum to me. I thought there would be 100,000 after a year. Colorado, which has 5 million people to our 6.3 million, has 99,000 patients. I think several factors are at play.

First, it costs a lot of money to get a medical-marijuana card. Evaluations cost at least $100, and the card itself costs another $150. Add to that the cost of meds, and some people are priced out of the market, especially when they weigh in the ease of getting meds without an MMJ card. You don't have to pay a pot-dealer $150 before you can stop by for a hook-up. Plus, the cost of meds from a collective is generally higher than from said pot-dealer, and you might have to drive across town for it. Yes, there is an emerging market in patient exchanges with small growers, who generally have lower costs than collectives. But if you don't know anyone who grows, the collectives are where it's at, and they're costly.

Fear is another factor. It's not the kind of fear that brings that uncontrollable urge to run up the stairs from the basement; it's more subtle. It's like the fear that prevents some folks from speaking out during meetings at work, or stops them from asking a hot guy out for a drink ... it's fear of the unknown, fear of embarrassment. Some people don't want a pot paper trail leading to them, and pot-dealers don't keep records.

Anyway, the number of patients is slowly but surely inching upward. I am guessing that once dispensaries open, there will be a surge of card applications.

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