Pubdate: Tue, 07 Aug 2012
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2012 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez


Growers Await Outcome of Statewide Lottery for Dispensaries

You can't really tell what's going on in the nondescript, tan stucco 
home in a booming Maricopa neighborhood until you walk inside, down 
the carpeted hallway, to the room with the warm yellow light glowing 
under the door.

"You don't really smell it until the door is opened," said Scott, 30, 
unlocking the door with a set of keys he always keeps with him. "And 
then, it hits you."

The bedroom shelters a full-scale legal medical-marijuana farm, with 
5-foot-tall plants sprouting crystallized buds, and other plants at 
varying degrees of growth. A custom ventilation system cools the 
room. A humidifier keeps it moist; a hydroponic system pumps 
nutrients into plant roots; and professionally wired high-powered 
grow lamps are rigged to a timer.

Scott is one of more than 25,000 patients and caregivers who were 
allowed to grow medical marijuana beginning in 2010 while state 
officials fought the law and then figured out how to implement a plan 
for statewide dispensaries.

Today, however, will be the beginning of the end for many as the 
state Department of Health Services grants permission for 99 
medical-marijuana dispensaries to open around the state.

Authors of the state's medical-marijuana law intended to limit urban 
growing by forcing people to buy at dispensaries, so after today, 
legal growers within 25 miles of a dispensary must begin shutting 
down their operations except under limited circumstances.

The state will allow current cardholders to grow marijuana until they 
apply for their annual renewal. Over time, the law is expected to 
virtually eliminate all growers in the state's urban areas who are 
not associated with dispensaries.

Growers such as Scott and his girlfriend, Jody, 44, who declined to 
give their last names for safety reasons, believe the rule unfairly 
- -- and illegally -- forces them to buy medical marijuana at a limited 
number of dispensaries.

"It will really be devastating to the community, to patients and 
caregivers," Scott said.

And, Scott believes, it will be financially devastating for him and 
Jody, who smoke marijuana throughout the day to ease chronic pain 
caused by vehicle and other accidents. He and Jody socked away his 
earnings as an iron worker, a Christmas bonus and tax returns to 
build their own grow room at a cost of about $5,000. Even though the 
room has doubled their utility bill to about $450 a month, they say 
it's still cheaper than buying marijuana at a dispensary.

They also worry that dispensary-grown marijuana could contain 
pesticides that could harm them.

"It's like groceries -- it's in the same genre," Jody said. "If 
you're able to grow your own tomatoes ... and green beans, do it. 
With this 25-mile rule, they're basically saying don't grow your 
tomatoes, you have to go to the store. In this economy, it's going to 
make it impossible for many people to get their medication."

Law's requirements

Voters in 2010 passed the measure to allow people with certain 
debilitating medical conditions, including chronic pain, cancer and 
muscle spasms, to use medical marijuana.

They must register with the state, which issues identification cards 
to qualified patients and caregivers. Caregivers can grow 12 plants 
for up to five patients.

Some caregivers can continue growing once the 25-mile rule takes 
effect, but only if their designated patients live 25 miles or more 
from a dispensary.

The state has given about 29,500 people permission to use medical 
marijuana; it has given about 85 percent of those patients permission 
to grow their own until the 25-mile rule takes effect.

Under the law, state health officials can license up to 126 
dispensaries throughout designated areas statewide. Health officials 
received 486 dispensary applications from individuals or businesses 
that want to set up shop in 99 of the 126 areas.

The state will select the winning applicants today by lottery.

There is no limit to how much marijuana a dispensary can grow. 
Patients can obtain up to 21/2 ounces of medical marijuana every two weeks.

ADHS Director Will Humble expects some dispensaries could be 
operating as early as September.

Medical-marijuana advocates are criticizing Humble's decision to 
interpret the 25-mile rule "as the crow flies" rather than measuring 
mileage on a grid.

Lisa Hauser, an attorney who helped draft the Arizona Medical 
Marijuana Act, and Andrew Meyers, campaign manager for the 
organization that got the program on the ballot, said Humble is 
accurately interpreting the intent of the 25-mile rule.

Hauser and Meyers said the law was designed to limit urban marijuana 
cultivation as a way to address law enforcement's concerns of home 
invasions and fire risks caused by dangerous wiring for lamps and 
other growing equipment.

Both expected the dispensaries to be operating shortly after the 
voters passed the law. Instead, the dispensaries were delayed after 
Gov. Jan Brewer in May 2011 asked a federal judge to determine 
whether the state law conflicted with federal drug statutes.

Eight months later, a judge dismissed the state's lawsuit.

The decision cleared the way for state health officials to begin the 
process of licensing medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Meyers pointed out that the campaign urged people to work through 
caregivers rather than investing thousands of dollars on outfitting 
grow spaces in spare bedrooms and garages that would have to be shut 
down when the dispensaries opened.

"Having individuals grow their own or set up their own little 
unsecured farming operations is a tad risky," Hauser said. "But also, 
it was not to be the default method of obtaining medicine -- it was 
to be grow-your-own only in these limited circumstances."

A spokesman for Phoenix Police Department said it will investigate 
and enforce the law if home growers illegally grow marijuana once 
dispensaries are running.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who has urged Brewer to halt 
licensing of dispensaries because marijuana is illegal under federal 
law, also said her agency will prosecute those who don't comply with 
the 25-mile rule.

"They would be committing a felony," she said. "And it will be 
treated like any other drug investigation."

Polk and 12 of the state's 15 county attorneys are fighting the 
marijuana law and sought a legal opinion from Attorney General Tom 
Horne as to whether the state law is pre-empted by federal law.

Horne on Monday issued an opinion that the law's provisions 
"authorizing any cultivating, selling and dispensing of marijuana" 
are pre-empted but that issuing registry cards to patients and 
caregivers is not. He advised the ADHS that it could go forward with 
the lottery, saying that a dispensary-registration certificate does 
not give authorization and that applicants still must go through 
additional processes.

But he suggested dispensary-lottery winners consider delaying work or 
investment in a dispensary until the courts weigh in.

Requirement impacts

Caterer Ellen Bridgewater, 52, began growing marijuana at Compassion 
First Caregivers Circle Inc., a warehouse-size cultivation center in 
north Phoenix.

The Scottsdale resident and her husband grow for five patients who 
have cancer, arthritis and Crohn's disease.

Bridgewater obtained patient and grow cards several months ago to 
help treat Crohn's disease, a form of inflammatory bowl disease. She 
tends to the plants, plays jazz to help them grow and regularly meets 
with patients to give them their medicine.

Bridgewater applied to run a dispensary, saying she wants to continue 
to provide medical marijuana at a low cost.

"I'm very apprehensive about the rule," she said. "You want people to 
have easy access to their medicine, and 25 miles is a long way for 
some people to go."

In anticipation of dispensaries opening, businesses that cater to 
medical-marijuana growers like weGrow in west Phoenix are shifting 
their business models away from home growers to focus on dispensaries.

The hydroponics superstore targeted much of its outreach to 
individuals, store owner Sunny Singh said.

The store sells lamps, nutrients, growing advice and other 
marijuana-related products.

Singh said many of his customers are asking questions about the 
25-mile rule and are concerned dispensary-grown marijuana will be too 

"They don't want to spend top money for medicine if they don't know 
what the quality is," he said. "If they're growing at home, they 
don't have a quality issue."
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