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Medical-Pot Panelists Grilled Over Dispensary-Approval Rules

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As aspiring medical-marijuana growers and sellers prepare to submit their applications to open up shop in Arizona, questions and concerns remain about the state's approval process.

A panel discussion, sponsored by professional organization Valley Partnership and held at the Phoenix Country Club, allowed prospective marijuana dispensers and others to get a better idea of what state health officials will be looking for, and how the process will proceed after June 1, when the Arizona Department of Health Services begins accepting applications for up to 126 dispensary licenses.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble, one of the event's three panelists, also shed some light on what a medical-marijuana dispensary might look like.

The other two panelists during the lively discussion, which continued well beyond its scheduled two hours, were Phoenix Planning Director Debra Stark and Rose Law Group principal Jordan Rose, whose current practice focuses on legal issues related to medical marijuana.

One issue of concern for audience members was the role of dispensary medical directors in the state's selection process.

DHS requires that every dispensary have a medical director who is licensed in one of a handful of approved health-care disciplines.

Humble said the presence of an outstanding medical director could be the biggest contributor to an applicant being chosen among competitors to operate a dispensary in one of the state-designated "Community Health Analysis Areas."

"I care more about the medical director than I do about the applicant," Humble said.

He made it clear that the medical director would be expected to make sure a dispensary operated ethically and in accordance with state law.

Each director should be physically present during hours of operation to evaluate whether each marijuana recipient appears to be there for a legitimate medical reason.

"It's the medical director's job to make sure they aren't giving marijuana to people who are impaired or are apparently abusing marijuana," Humble said.

Still, the doctor writing the marijuana prescription will carry the primary responsibility for making sure they write scripts only for patients with valid medical problems, Humble said.

Maricopa-based attorney Jose Chaidez, who represents a prospective dispensary operator, said the discussion also helped clear up questions about the liability of doctors issuing marijuana prescriptions compared with dispensaries filling prescriptions.

"I think it clarified what the dispensaries need to do versus what a caregiver needs to do," said Chaidez, of Chaidez Law Firm.

Other concerns raised by attendees at the discussion included the apparent shortage of qualifying dispensary sites in some communities and the ability to meet local dispensary-operating requirements in cities and towns that have imposed their own, even stricter rules on top of those issued by the state.

Stark said she was open to the idea of revisiting certain city-imposed rules if they turned out to be unreasonably strict.

But Stark said other cities, towns and villages may see the issue of amending rules differently.

The town of Paradise Valley already is receiving criticism for what some critics consider to be draconian rules that give town officials total control over the location and operator of its one designated dispensary.

Stark said the courts ultimately may have to decide where to draw the line between strict and too strict.

Kris Krane, of consulting firm 4Front Advisors, which is representing a prospective dispensary operator, said he hoped Friday's discussion also led to a better understanding of what a dispensary business would be like.

"I don't understand why people think this is going to be different than any other business," Krane said.

"You're going to have to market yourself. You're going to have to take care of your patient better than your competitor, or they're going to leave."

Humble agreed that the typical dispensary was likely to resemble other retail stores.

There are no restrictions on what other products dispensaries can sell, so long as those products are legal.

Therefore, it's possible that some applications would come from operators of smoke shops and even head shops, which typically sell pipes, bongs, rolling papers and other paraphernalia.

"I wouldn't be surprised if someone like a Trails (Department Store) submits an application," Humble said.

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: azcentral.com
Author: J. Craig Anderson
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: azcentral.com
Website: Medical-pot panelists grilled over dispensary-approval rules
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