Will Humble, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, discusses his department’s oversight of the State’s medical marijuana program and provides an update on this year’s flu season.
Ted Simons: Arizona's first medical marijuana dispensary opened up for business last week in Glendale. Another dispensary in Tucson opened yesterday. Here to talk about the new dispensaries is Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health services. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
Will Humble: Good evening and thanks.
Ted Simons: So we got a 25 mile zone in Glendale and now in Tucson, as well.
Will Humble: Once a dispensary is up and running, folks that live within 25 miles of that dispensary will no longer be allowed to cultivate marijuana on their own like we have been allowing up to now. The exception is that we will be grandfathering in the cards currently in folks wallets now. When they come up for renewal, we will do the math and see if they are within 25. If they are, we won't approve the cultivation.
Ted Simons: Next one set to open Cochise county?
Will Humble: Yeah, so one opened yesterday in Tucson, right? And then we approved a dispensary in Cochise county today. They are not ready to open yet. They need a week or so to get their inventory and everything ready to go. Probably Cochise county will be the third dispensary next week I'd say.
Ted Simons: Ok. Let's focus on Glendale. Any problems with their opening?
Will Humble: So far so good. Everything seems to be in compliance. Our team was out there and verified that everything was in order. And by the way, that inspection went very well. They were ready from the get-go. So, that place was -- met all of our expectations and still does.
Ted Simons: And how does the process of buying medical marijuana -- start with this one dispensary, how does it work? Is it like a grocery store? Like a pharmacy where you have to show -- how does that work?
Will Humble: Everyone has an I.D. card. Ted, let's say you have a medical marijuana card. You walk in, you have your card with you, and you meet the person at the door, behind the kiosk or whatever and you hand your card to them and they would go online and verify that that is a real card that it is not a counterfeit card. That inquiry will go to our computer data base and they will verify whether that is your card, whether we issued the card and it is valid. So now they know you are a real patient with a real card. You would have a consultation with somebody - a dispensary agent that talks with you about your medical condition and what you are asking for in terms of quantity, etc., to come up to some sort of a decision about how much to sell you, and then you would pay for the marijuana, you would get the marijuana, and you are free to go. There are some things that happen internally also inside the dispensary if you want to talk about that.
Ted Simons: Yeah. Well I hear that some of the literally labeled, things like Purple Urkle and that sort of business. Do you sit there and point it out, examine the goods? How do you choose what you want to purchase?
Will Humble: The patient gets to choose, right? Our role is to make sure that they do not buy more than 2.5 ounce every two weeks, because that's the statutory language that was used by the voters. The folks can only buy 2.5 ounces every two weeks, that is the maximum from a dispensary. So, when they made that sale we talked about, the dispensary agent goes into the computer and records how much they sold to you as the patient, and that goes into our data base. Then we have a global data base that will cover statewide just to make sure that someone is not dispensary hopping to try to get over the 2.5 ounce every two week limit.
Ted Simons: So recording that data is required?
Will Humble: Yes absolutely.
Ted Simons: Now apparently the Glendale operation is cash only. Is that required?
Will Humble: No, that is not required. They could take cash, credit cards, etc. What we do require is that the dispensary keep meticulous records about every sale, how much they sold, what the revenue was. Because remember, each of the dispensaries need to be nonprofit, that was in the the voter-approved language. These are not supposed to be profit facilities. And so we require them to keep good financial records as well as inventory and everything else. And we are going to be auditing that with some professional accountants that we hire to make sure that the books are straight and are not using the shell game.
Ted Simons: It sounds from reports as though an ounce of pot at this particular dispensary goes to $55 to $60 at this dispensary. Is that a set price or is it an open market out there?
Will Humble: I don't know about that. I just honestly don't know how much the stuff costs. It is an open market.
Ted Simons: It is an open market?
Will Humble: Yes. We do not and will not be regulating the prices at the dispensaries. And so here in the valley, probably there is going 40 or so dispensaries. And there is going to be upward of 70, 80, maybe even $90 statewide. So there will be some competition. Folks can go from place to place and shop for price and eventually there will be advertising price. I am not sure.
Ted Simons: And it sounds like the Glendale dispensary sells things like brownies and candies with marijuana in there, is that allowed? Is that okay?
Will Humble: I don't believe that dispensary is doing that.
Ted Simons: But can a dispensary do that?
Will Humble: A dispensary can, but it is not as simple as that. Because now you are moving from just marijuana to food. And so if a dispensary wants to do that, they can. But they need to get a restaurant license from us as well.
Ted Simons: Oh, ok.
Will Humble: Making sure that the food -- not just the fact that there is marijuana in it, but is that brownie being made under sanitary conditions in the first place, are they baking it to the right temperature and all those kinds of things. So they can, but it is another level of regulation that would be required before they could do that.
Ted Simons: A couple of more questions on this regarding what these dispensaries are required to do. They have to be open a certain amount of time.
Will Humble: Yes, one of the regulations that we put in our rule was that dispensaries need to be open at least 30 hours per week and have enough inventory to sell to people. So, it doesn't mean everyone has to get 2.5 ounces if that is what they want, but they need to be available, open for regular business and be able to sell to customers that come, you know, through the door, at least 30 hours a week. But what we didn't want to have was shell dispensaries that were going to be there and not be in operation. If you are going to be a dispensary, actually be one. Have enough inventory, get your act together so you can have enough inventory for the folks that walk through.
Ted Simons: And if you don't have it? If everyone walks in buying 2.5 ounces and you are out of it quickly, that becomes a problem?
Will Humble: That is a problem. So one of the things I think you will see, at least initially, is most of the dispensaries when they get up and running, will be selling small quantities at first because the supply chain is not there yet, their cultivation facility might not be fully operational or because of them are simply getting from care givers at this point still.
Ted Simons: So last question on this - Sun City operation is in the courts right now, not the Glendale operation, that's open for business.
Will Humble: Right.
Ted Simons: But the Sun City is a different one. What is the latest?
Will Humble: That is a zoning case,where Maricopa county was unwilling to sign a zoning paper requirement that we require to process the application. So the applicant sued us, that went to Superior Court. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, in other words, the dispensary applicant won in Superior Court. And tomorrow at 11 o'clock, there is a hearing where I think Montgomery and Horne are appealing that ruling and asking for an injunction because they want to go to appellate court. We will see tomorrow whether the judge grants that.
Ted Simons: And again, that is a county situation, as opposed to the Glendale operation, which is a city dispensary?
Will Humble: Right.
Ted Simons: Okay. We have about a minute left here. It is flu season, isn't it? Flu season yet?
Will Humble: Yes, the number of cases doubled in the last week. So, when we see that happening, it usually means that it is really starting to circulate in the community and the real take-home message for folks is go get your vaccine before you -- before Christmas comes, go and get that at your local pharmacy. It's real easy to do. And you will be glad you did so that you are not sick on Christmas day.
Ted Simons: What are forecasts showing as far as flu season?
Will Humble: A good match between the circulating strains and the vaccines. That is the main thing we look for at this time of the year to make sure that the shot you get is exactly what is circulating in the community. And it is. That is good news. When you get the shot, it gives you full protection.
Ted Simons: All right, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
Will Humble: Take care, thanks.
Will Humble:Director, Arizona Department of Health Services;