The Voters' Will

It's official: By August, some MMJ dispensaries should be open for business

It looks like the state will finally allow medical-marijuana dispensaries by late summer—more than a year after it should have happened.

The Arizona Department of Health Services announced last week that it will soon begin accepting applications for dispensaries across the state, which will bring much-needed medication to the masses, including many people who have been struggling to find places to get it. It's about time.

"We'll start reviewing applications as they come in, and we'll stop taking applications at the close of business on May 25," DHS director Will Humble said on his blog. "We'll have 30 working days to review the applications, and applicants will have 20 working days to submit any documents or information that were missing during our review of the application. We expect to award medical-marijuana dispensary registration certificates on Aug. 7."

If only one qualifying operator applies for a given Community Health Analysis Area (there are 125 across the state), the operator will get the certificate that day. If there is more than one application for a given CHAA, there will be a random drawing. After the initial certificates are issued, the state will inspect sites and issue operational certificates.

At least some dispensary operators will be ready to go. Ken Sobel, who hopes to open at least two dispensaries in Tucson, is champing at the bit.

"This is really good news, and it's long overdue. I'm going to try my best to be ready to get an operational certificate within a matter of days" after Aug. 7, he said.

Sobel is disappointed that the state "kicked the can down the street" in February, when a Superior Court judge nixed many of the rules for prospective dispensary operators. The rules could have been amended in a matter of days (or minutes), but DHS instead took two months to basically strike some requirements.

Sobel is also concerned that the timeline is a bit tight for some prospective operators. Sobel already has a collective in one of his planned dispensary locations, so his brick-and-mortar requirements are in order—for instance, he has a secure location for a dispensary already approved by the city Planning and Development Services Department.

Other folks will struggle to be ready quickly after Aug. 7, he said.

But Sobel commended Humble for moving ahead with the program, something the esteemed director wanted to do from the start. However, he was hampered by Gov. Jan Brewer's litigious nature.

"In all fairness, I think the guy has taken his job very seriously," Sobel said.

One question that has come up as dispensary openings near involves the authorization to grow. There are now about 20,000 people whose MMJ cards authorize them to grow their own, but the state rules don't allow that unless they live more than 25 miles from a dispensary. When dispensaries open, theoretically, it would be illegal for those card-holders to grow. The good news for those patients: The state does not intend to revoke that authorization until the patients renew their MMJ cards.

So as spring melts into summer, medical-marijuana patients can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. By late summer, barring any last-minute changes, we will be able to walk into a dispensary down on the corner with a safe, controlled environment and pick up some OG Kush or Purple Urkle or whatever meds strike our little hearts' desires.

It's been a long time coming, and there has been a lot of can-kicking, as Sobel put it, but it's nice to finally see the will of the voters put into action.

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