The State Department of Health Services has issued the final rules that will govern Arizona’s medical marijuana program that starts in mid-April. DHS Director Will Humble explains how the system will work.
Ted Simons: Last fall Arizona voters approved a medical marijuana measure. The State Department of health services was given time to come up with rules to implement the new law. The department recently finished that work and I recently talked to health services director Will Humble about the updated rules. Will, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.
Will Humble: Hey, thanks.
Ted Simons: So this four-month rule making process is now completely over.
Will Humble: Yeah, took about 120 days. My staff really did a great job pulling together what we think is a really responsible rule package that sets the stage for a medical marijuana program as opposed to a recreational one as is the case almost every other state that has one of these medical marijuana laws.
Ted Simons: Let's get some fine-tuning here out of the way. How many public forums did you have? How many comments? How emotional did all this get?
Will Humble: We had 3,000, more than 3,000 electronic comments. On our website, we really tried to make this sort of an electronic comment period. The first rule making that I've ever seen done almost purely electronically in terms of the written comments. Then we had four public meetings across the state, one in flag, one in Tucson and two here in Phoenix. Those became emotional at times. But that's to be expected. In fact, most public meetings that we have are emotional in one way or another.
Ted Simons: Were these folks basically saying is there too many hoops we got to jump through?
Will Humble: That was the general theme throughout all the public meetings were the people who were prospective dispensary owners saying, hey, you are making it too hard on us. And there was also a different factions, people with money who wanted high standards to keep out the guys with no money, the guys with no money wanting a pure lottery system. So there were some interaction between people with and without means as well.
Ted Simons: The final changes looks like dispensary applications, dispensary distribution, these sorts of things talk to us about the final changes.
Will Humble: Yeah, so probably the biggest change with regard to the dispensaries is the way we allocate them initially and what would happen over time. And so we wanted to build some incentives in to make sure that the dispensaries were located in the rural parts of the state, not just the urban core. That way we would have better access for medication for people in the rural parts of the state. Recognizing that there may not be that many qualified patients in the rural parts of the state, we needed to build some extra incentives in for people to locate in place like Ajo and Wilcox and the like. And so we built a wholesale market, provision inside the rules so that let's say you have the dispensary in Ajo. You would have a very small store front dispensary and perhaps a large cultivation facility that grows far more marijuana than you need for your dispensary and then you can use that marijuana, sell it to the urban core, for example, to the dispensary in Tempe or something like that. So that was one provision. Another thing we did was allow dispensaries after three years to move anywhere. So we're migrating the dispensaries out across the state for the first three years. After three years of operation they can then move somewhere else inside the state subject to local zoning approval.
Ted Simons: But I know that the state was kind of divided into certain areas for these first three years. Does that mean that certain areas won't have any dispensaries?
Will Humble: By Arizona's very nature there's very frontier and very rural places that will most likely not ever see a dispensary within 25 miles and those will be self-growth communities. We think during this initial phase over the next three years we will have pretty darned good coverage across the state and very few areas that don't have access to marijuana. Over time, we expect to see a migration towards those areas with the higher density of qualified patients and then as new dispensary allocations come open, we will allocate those out to the rural parts of the state as a preference so we are trying to back-fill those areas of the state that actually lose dispensaries over time to the urban core.
Ted Simons: Interesting. All right. Let's get some facts here. Two and a half ounces every two weeks from dispensaries? Correct?
Will Humble: That was in the initiative. That's state law. That wasn't in the rule but that was the maximum amount people can get every two weeks, two and a half ounces.
Ted Simons: You have, what, 12 plants you can cultivate if you are 25 miles or more away.
Will Humble: We don't have any dispensaries yet and we probably won't have any until October so between now and October, we are pretty much a self-grow state. So if you have a qualified patient card and you apply to the department after April 14th when we start accepting applications, you will have a little seal on there that allows you to cultivate up to 12 plants for your own use. You can't divert it, can't give it away, throw parties, can't do any of that kind of stuff. It's just for your medical use. And so that privilege will go away when a dispensary moves within 25 miles of your address.
Ted Simons: Oh, OK. You mentioned April 14th, that is the start date for patient applications?
Will Humble: April 14th we are taking the applications online. No other way. Just on line the reason we are doing that is to minimize our administrative costs so that, over time, we can reduce the fees that we are charging.
Ted Simons: But I understand that there are already some prescriptions being written out for this. What is happening here?
Will Humble: There have been physicians that have been writing what they believe are certifications really since the holidays. They are charging $100, $150 to see patients and give them a sheet of paper. Those patients have been walking away with sheets of paper for weeks now that they believe are certification. The fact is we will only be accepting applications on the form that we posted up on our website yesterday that includes the series of affirmative attestations physicians need to make that they have done, say, a physical examination, they have looked at a year's worth of medical records, they have a medical record to back up the diagnosis, they have talked to the patient about the pluses and minuses of marijuana, et cetera, and then sign that form. We are trying to build a platform to ensure the physicians are really doing a full assessment of that patient's medical condition. So that over time, we can identify those physicians that act unprofessionally and write certifications for recreational use because physicians at this point are really in control of whether this becomes a recreational program over time. We want to be able to identify them quickly so that their boards can take action for the unprofessional conduct.
Ted Simons: That's the biggest concern, I take it from your end, that this becomes a recreational use?
Will Humble: From the very start we have been trying to prevent from becoming recreational and part of that reason really, honestly, from my perspective, is that when folks walked into that ballot box and connected that arrow it said medical. And it said regulated by the Department of Health Services so we are taking that seriously. That's exactly what we are trying to tie into these final rules so that we have a program that is medical.
Ted Simons: Last question. Starts the 14th but not fully operational until the end of the year. What happens in the interim?
Will Humble: Well, starting on the 14th, people can apply online for their medical marijuana cards or designated caregiver, patient can ask for a designated caregiver. We accept applications for dispensaries beginning June 1st. The cutoff date is June 30th. We will evaluate those applications throughout July. And we will be awarding the initial registration certificates for the dispensaries August 15th or thereabouts so there will be about a month or two for build out so probably this fall is when you will start to see the first dispensaries.
Ted Simons: Alright. Will, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Will Humbe: Thanks for the opportunity.
Will Humble:Director, State Department of Health Services;