Pubdate: Mon, 4 Oct 2010
Source: Sun, The (Yuma, AZ)
Copyright: 2010 The Sun
Author: Mara Knaub
Bookmark: (Proposition 203)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


The possibility of marijuana dispensaries being legalized has the 
city of Yuma working on zoning regulations just in case.

City spokesman Greg Hyland told the Yuma Sun that the Community 
Development Department is working on zoning regulations, but stressed 
that the public process is long.

"It's in the works, but it's way too early for details," Hyland said.

Arizona's top health official said he warns cities and counties to 
get their zoning regulations in order - and soon.

State Health Director Will Humble said if voters approve Proposition 
203 next month, it falls to him to approve the license requests for 
the approximately 120 marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed to 
open up around the state, as well as the sites each of them is using 
to cultivate the crop.

The initiative, if approved, would allow anyone with a doctor's 
recommendation to obtain up to 2-1/2 ounces of marijuana every two 
weeks from one of the state-regulated dispensaries.

Humble said the only restriction in the voter initiative is that 
these facilities can't be within 500 feet of a school. Other than 
that, he said, he has to give the go-ahead if the proposed site meets 
other legal requirements.

"If the city or town doesn't have the zoning restriction in place at 
the time we receive our application, I've got no choice but to 
approve that marijuana dispensary," he said. "It might be next to a 
playground or a church or a park or someplace that the city's like, 
'Are you kidding me, Department of Health Services, you let them have 
the dispensary right next to our playground or our public pool?'"

Hyland said that as far as he knows, no one in Yuma is waiting to 
apply for the zoning. "Personally, I have not heard of anyone 
interested in opening (a dispensary)."

Humble said many of the larger communities already have started the 
zoning review process. But they may not be moving fast enough.

He pointed out that Proposition 203 directs him to have the program 
up and running four months after the Secretary of State's Office 
certifies the ballot results.

That, he said, puts the deadline sometime in March. And Humble said 
cities not only need to craft the new zoning regulations by then but 
also have the legally necessary public hearings and have the changes 
adopted by elected officials.

Humble said he also fears that officials in many smaller communities 
are oblivious to the measure and may not have even started thinking 
about the zoning issues.

Proponents of the measure, backed financially by the national 
Marijuana Policy Project, say there are people with many medical 
conditions that could benefit from being able to obtain and use the 
drug. At the moment, though, that is not an option - at least not 
legally - as possession of any amount of marijuana remains a felony.

That list includes glaucoma.

But that argument has taken a hit from the American Glaucoma Society 
which issued a warning in its newsletters against sufferers from 
treating their condition with marijuana.

On one hand, the warning concedes that marijuana does lower the 
pressure within the eye. But the problem is that effect lasts for 
only several hours, meaning that patients would need to use the drug 
day and night.

"Failing to do so can lead to a rebound spike in eye pressure, which 
can be damaging," the warning states. It also says that marijuana 
lowers blood pressure, possibly leading to optic nerve damage.

Andrew Myers, who is coordinating the pro-203 campaign, said that 
should not deter voters from approving the measure.

"A very small percentage of medical marijuana patients are glaucoma 
patients," he said. And he said there are studies showing marijuana 
is effective at treating the disease, with glaucoma patients 
benefitting in other states where the drug already is legal.

Anyway, Myers said, there is no reason that marijuana "should be 
available as a tool in a physician's tool kit" to deal with not just 
glaucoma but other diseases.

The initiative also is taking hits from people like Pima County 
Attorney Barbara LaWall. She said other states where marijuana has 
been made legal for medical purposes have shown an increase in crime. 
And much of that, she said, is related to the distribution system.

"Its primary effect will be to establish a system where drug seekers, 
including addicts, can easily obtain recreational drugs and where 
commercial marijuana dispensaries will become storefronts for dope 
dealers," she said.

Myers countered that the Arizona law is different than the system in 
other states, including California. Aside from the limit on the 
number of dispensaries, he said they have to be non-profit operations 
and there are background checks required on those who work there.

Humble's concerns go to the other end of the equation. He worries 
about the creation of "marijuana medical mills ... where physicians 
are handing out a marijuana recommendation in 15 minutes in exchange for $150."

The health director said he is exploring whether he has the legal 
authority to put some constraints on physicians, perhaps with an 
overall monthly limit on the number of recommendations they can issue.

One side issue in the debate is how the change in law will affect employers.

A provision in the initiative makes it illegal for an employer to 
discipline or fire a worker who has a medical marijuana 
recommendation solely because of a positive test result for the drug.

Myers said this provision was inserted because the test for marijuana 
is different than for alcohol and most other drugs: It indicates only 
residue in the body, not that someone is impaired. He said there is 
no reason that someone who uses the drug on Sunday should be fired 
because a test days later shows positive.

It does allow a worker to be disciplined for smoking on the job or 
for being actually impaired.

But several attorneys who specialize in labor law said that latter 
option would be difficult for employers to prove, leaving them 
powerless to run drug-free workplaces.

At this point, the campaign for Proposition 203 is better financed 
than any opposition. At last report it had $640,523 in donations, 
most of that from the Marijuana Policy Project. Foes operating as 
Keep Arizona Drug Free had collected just $6,685. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake