Medical Marijuana Lawsuit

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The Arizona Department of Health Services has set an August 7 deadline for medical marijuana dispensaries to open after receiving their certificate for operation. Several dispensaries say they have been bogged down by court fights over medical marijuana, and have sued to get more time to open. Three days of hearings are being held to determine if those operators will get more time. Department of Health Services Director Will Humble will talk about the hearing and give us an update on medical marijuana.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Over 40 medical marijuana dispensaries have opened in the state with prospective proprietors facing an August 7th deadline to turn in the required permits. Several dispensaries sued to extend that deadline, resulting in three days of evidentiary hearings held over the past week. The director of the state Department of Health services will join us in a moment to talk about the hearings, but, first, producer Lorri Allen and photographer Scot Olson take us to a Tempe dispensary that has a connection to the lawsuit.

Lorri Allen: Despite state regulations and recommendations from the police department, harvest of Tempe opened May 4th.

Steve White: It didn't help that from the time we started writing checks until the time we opened was more than double the time that we anticipated it would be. And the expenses were significantly greater than we anticipated.

Lorri Allen: Extra costs included bulletproof glass and security cameras. Steps you can't see. Measures to make sure that there is no marijuana odor.

Steve White: The difficulty with this industry is you have a new industry. You have a lot of preconceived notions about what these places will be.

Lorri Allen: He says Tempe is a progressive city but it has been demanding.

Steve White: I don't think any city says, wow, a medical marijuana dispensary, great.

Lorri Allen: Representing a dispensary that had trouble getting a state to approve its location.

Steve White: On behalf of that client, I'm seeking additional time to open. Whatever amount of time that we were going through the debate about whether our building is plopped in the middle of the street or not, should be tacked on to the end of the deadline to allow that client to open a little later.

Lorri Allen: Attorney Ryan Hurley doesn't have a client in the lawsuit, but understands why some of those running clinics feel an extension to the deadline would be unfair.

Ryan Hurley: I think that there is a -- a sentiment among the ones that were able to open in time. Hey, we were able to do it, why can't anybody else? Why should they get an extension when we worked very hard to get there.

Steve White: We have had a number of patients come back, since they've been coming here, they're sleeping better than they have in their entire life.

Lorri Allen: They do agree that getting medical marijuana to people in pain is the ultimate goal.

Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the lawsuits is Will Humble, director of the Department of Health Services. The focus of the hearings was a bunch of people saying they need more time, correct?

Will Humble: There's about 18 certificate holders. If you got your certificate last summer, August 7th, you have a year to get up and running. If you don't get up and running in that first year, your certificate expires. We're up against a deadline in two weeks if folks don't get their approval to operate in the next couple of weeks, you know, unless the court changes something, those certificates will expire and then we'll start on the second round.

Ted Simons: The approval to operate. Obviously we have cities involved, other factors, construction, you know, the odor of marijuana in the building, and all of that kind of stuff makes sense to you that some folks are finding it tough sledding?

Will Humble: Oh, from the very beginning I knew that the biggest barrier to getting these dispensaries up and running would be issues involved with zoning and local restrictions. I mean, you know, our regulations put sort of the baseline regulations in place. But then, no matter where you're going to site your dispensary, you have to get permission from the local jurisdiction, a certificate of occupancy. Some of the certificates are difficult to get. The clip that you saw in Tempe. Tempe has got standards over and above the standards that we developed. There is no doubt that this was a challenge in some jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions were more challenging than others and I said that in court.

Ted Simons: Indeed. We should mention, the judge has to make a final decision, not you, correct?

Will Humble: This case is in Superior Court. I was a witness for a few hours last week. Final day of testimony was today. The judge is going to take back the testimony, the witnesses and all of the evidence and come up with a decision here in the next week or so. And then give some direction about whether to dismiss this suit or whether to side with the plaintiffs and say hey these unforeseen circumstances dictate that agency, you shall give them more time. We will just have to wait and see what the judge says.

Ted Simons: Do you think they have a point? Especially when they say the White Mountain dispensary, in the appeals court right now, some say that has a chilling effect because that slows the whole process down. Does that make sense to you?

Will Humble: Absolutely. The chilling effect goes way back to the beginning when I was on the show about two years ago talking about the difference between state and federal law. There has always been this sort of dichotomy of state and federal law not seeing in sync. That was the first chilling effect. There have been other things that have happened along the way that maybe weren't fully, you know, you couldn't really anticipate. But that is the nature of capitalism. I mean, you know, you jump into business, and you do the best you can to plan, but market forces and unforeseen circumstances sometimes end up driving the day.

Ted Simons: Well, that seems to be the argument among some dispensaries. A lot of blood sweat and tears on our part to get done by the deadline. Not really fair to extend that.

Will Humble: Right. That is the other side of this. If folks get more time to get their dispensary up and running, you know, in a sense, the folks that really hustled and got this thing done on time say, hey, wait a minute. I paid contractors extra money to get in here quickly, and I guess I didn't have to.

Ted Simons: So, August 7th, as we stand right now, that August 7th deadline is still on, correct?

Will Humble: Yes.

Ted Simons: When are you expecting some sort of ruling here, some sort of decision?

Will Humble: I don't really know. But the judge knows because I was in court and everybody knows that this decision needs to come before August 6th, the next couple of weeks.

Ted Simons: Let's say they move it to the 14th, 20th, whenever it, when the last day arrives are you expecting an avalanche of paper work, applications and things?

Will Humble: Actually now, we have 62 with operating licenses right now. We have 21 that have asked for their opening inspections. So, in general, most of those are actually ready to go. We're really looking at something close to 80 out of the 98 that could potentially make the deadline. So, it is really just a handful of these applicants that haven't -- or don't appear to be able to make the deadline because a local jurisdiction issues and other things.

Ted Simons: So, as far as the whole program stands, what are we seeing around the state? How many folks within the 25 mile boundary and those sorts of things, give us an update.

Will Humble: The25 mile, what you are talking about, if you live within 25 miles of a dispensary, you are not authorized to cultivate when you renew your card. Right now 90% of Arizonans, 90 percent of card holders live within miles of a dispensary right now.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Will Humble: About 38,000 qualified patients.

Ted Simons: Is everything otherwise going along as expected, not too many speed bumps and surprises?

Will Humble: There has been plenty of speed bumps and surprises with this, mostly related to lawsuits and that stuff. Water off a duck's back --

Ted Simons: Alright. Good to have you here. We will keep an eye on this thing. If the deadline is expended we may have to have you back to see why and how long.

Will Humble: Alright.

Ted Simons: Alright.

Will Humble:Director, Department of Health Services;

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