Pubdate: Fri, 03 Aug 2012
Source: Verde Independent (AZ)
Copyright: 2012 Western News & Info, Inc
Author: Howard Fischer


PHOENIX -- State officials will award the first-ever licenses to 
legally sell marijuana this coming week under what one prosecutor 
said is a cloud of having them shut down the moment they open their doors.

The big day comes Tuesday when state health officials will pull out a 
device most resembling the machine used to pick lottery numbers.

In fact, that's really what it is: a lottery to determine which of 
the 486 applicants are going to walk away with a certificate that 
awards them permission -- pending final inspection -- to be one of 
the 126 sites where marijuana can be sold. In areas where there are 
multiple applicants for the same neighborhood, the business whose 
pre-numbered ping pong ball that the machine spits out is the winner.

And the competition is even tighter than that.

State Health Director Will Humble said no one applied for a license 
to sell marijuana in 27 of the state's 126 "community health analysis 
areas.' Most of those are Indian reservations, though there was no 
interest in setting up shop to sell marijuana in Green Valley or San Luis.

And 24 areas others had only one applicant, meaning that organization 
already is a winner.

So that leaves 462 applicants vying for the 75 remaining areas.

Humble figures that the first dispensaries could be operating in two 
weeks. But he said these are likely to be by applicants in areas 
where there was no competition, giving them a head start on their 
paperwork and planning their security and inventory control systems 
that the state has to approve before they can open their doors.

But the big question is how long those doors will remain open, and 
whether the winners will ever be able to recoup their investment, 
ranging from the start-up costs and lease payments on buildings to 
the $5,000 non-refundable application fee.

"I have been told that the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the 
District of Arizona, John Leonardo, fully intends to prevent any 
dispensaries from operating in Arizona by seizing each and every one 
as it opens and commits violations of the (federal) Controlled 
Substances Act,' claimed Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk in a 
letter to Gov. Jan Brewer.

She pointed out that, Arizona's 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana 
law notwithstanding, the drug remains illegal here for all under 
federal law. And a dispensary license not only grants the right to 
sell but also to grow the drug.

Polk, writing on behalf of 13 of the state's 15 county attorneys, 
chided Brewer's health department for licensing both cardholders and 
dispensaries in spite of that conflict.

"We believe it is bad public policy for one arm of the government to 
facilitate marijuana cultivation and use while another arm of the 
government is moving to close it down,' she wrote.

The letter drew a sharp retort from Bill Solomon of the U.S. 
Attorney's Office, calling her representation on his agency's 
position on medical marijuana dispensaries "inaccurate.'

"The Department of Justice is focusing its limited resources on 
significant drug traffickers, not seriously ill individuals and their 
caregivers who are in compliance with applicable state medical 
marijuana statutes,' Solomon said.

Polk, however, told Capitol Media Services she's not convinced.

She said that Ann Scheel, who was acting U.S. Attorney before 
Leonardo's appointment, sent a letter to Brewer saying that her 
office intends to "vigorously enforce the Controlled Substances Act' 
and that compliance with state medical marijuana laws is not a defense.

Solomon, however, said that does not mean users are in danger.

"We don't intend to focus our resources on cancer patients or other 
seriously ill individuals,' he said.

Polk, however, said that's not her only source.

"I had spoken to a former DEA agent who tells me that the U.S. 
Attorney's Office does intend to seize and close down the 
dispensaries,' she said. And she said federal prosecutors in 
California have gone after several retail sellers there.

Solomon, pressed specifically on what that might mean about going 
after dispensaries which are selling the drugs, Solomon said he could 
not provide a definitive answer. "What I can tell you is we will 
continue to focus on large-scale drug traffickers,' he said.

Whether raids are coming or not, Polk said state employees should not 
administer the program in the face of contrary federal law.

"It makes no sense for one arm of the government to be licensing 
dispensaries and another arm of the government to be shutting them 
down,' she said.

Humble, however, continues down the road to Tuesday's drawing 
undeterred. Nor is he concerned that his agency might be taking 
application money from and licensing dispensaries that could be 
immediately shuttered by federal agents.

"This is a free-market society,' he said. "People make decisions 
about what businesses they're going to jump into based on their own 
analysis of their own risks and benefits.'

Humble said no one has kept the conflict between state and federal 
law a secret.

But all the talk of shutting down dispensaries also depends on the 
feds finding them first.

The 2010 voter-approved law specifically exempts from public records 
laws not only the names of those who will get a license but the 
addresses where they are located. Humble said he is obligated, 
though, to provide a list to anyone with a medical marijuana card.

"Now, cardholders can take that email and give it on their own 
Facebook account,' he continued, as they are not subject to the 
confidentiality requirements. And Humble said he expects at least 
some dispensary operators to come forward publicly, if for no other 
reason than to advertise for customers.

And if federal agents want the list? Humble said they probably ought 
to have a court order to get him to surrender it.

In the meantime, Humble is preparing for Tuesday's drawing. But that 
does not mean anyone will be opening up shop on Wednesday.

"It's really just an allocation,' he said of the process. Winners 
then have to complete paperwork to be certified as a marijuana dealer.

"That still doesn't allow them to sell,' Humble explained. He said 
health officials have to do a final inspection of everything from the 
business plans to the security of the facility.

There also needs to be an inventory control system in place to keep 
some of the product from going out the back door for illegal sales.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom