Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jan 2013
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2013 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Page: A1


Medical-Pot Patients Decry How State Bans Home-Growing Within 25 
Miles of Dispensaries

Medical-marijuana patients and advocates are decrying state health 
officials' interpretation of a rule that bans growth of the plant 
within 25 miles of an operating dispensary.

Authors of the state's medical-marijuana law intended to limit home 
growers by forcing people to buy at dispensaries. But amid prolonged 
legal battles over the law, no dispensaries opened and home-growing flourished.

But the opening of four medical-marijuana dispensaries in Phoenix, 
Tucson and Cochise County have brought the 25-mile rule to the forefront.

Over time, the vast majority of patients who live within 25 miles of 
dispensaries will not be permitted to legally cultivate pot. The 
Arizona Department of Health Services, which oversees the program, 
issues cards that allow patients to use medical marijuana, grow it or 
both. Those cards must be renewed each year, and those who live 
within 25 miles of an operating dispensary will not be allowed to 
grow the plant.

But how the distance is calculated, whether it's "as the crow flies" 
or "as the car drives," is a key point of controversy.

State health officials interpret the rule as the area within a 
25-mile radius of a dispensary.

Many patients and advocates, however, say the rule should be 
interpreted as driving distance -- actual mileage measured on an 
odometer driving from one location to another. They argue that the 
state's interpretation unfairly covers too much ground and bans too 
many people from growing in their homes.

New figures obtained by The Arizona Republic from the ADHS show that 
64 percent of the state's population lives within a 25-mile radius of 
a dispensary.

The agency reports that nearly 49 percent of Arizonans are within 25 
miles of the Glendale dispensary; less than half of a percentage 
point of Arizonans live within 25 miles of the Cochise County 
dispensary; and nearly 15 percent of state residents live within 25 
miles of the two Tucson-area dispensaries.

Within the medical-marijuana community, controversy over the 25-mile 
rule has dominated discussion.

Lately, it has fired up the audience on WeEducated, a Web talk show 
about medical marijuana in Arizona, said Kristie Austin, 31, a show host.

"It should not be measured as the crow flies," said Austin, of Phoenix.

"It should be measured by roads -- like via MapQuest. If you live on 
the other side of a mountain range, and it takes two hours to get to 
a dispensary, that's ridiculous."

Austin is a medical-marijuana cardholder who uses the drug to ease 
pain brought on by endometriosis.

Like many other medical-marijuana patients, Austin also argues that 
the 25-mile rule places unfair burdens on patients who either can't 
drive or must leave their neighborhoods to get their medicine.

Patients also argue that the rule forces them to pay more for their 
medicine. It's cheaper to grow the plant at home rather than spend 
hundreds of dollars each month at dispensaries for their supplies, they say.

Those arguments don't sway state ADHS Director Will Humble, who 
stands by his agency's interpretation of the rule.

He pointed out that the rule was written into the voter-approved law 
and, therefore, his agency is required to implement it.

"This is not something we can change," he said.

Not easily, at least.

The Legislature could alter the rule with a three-quarters vote, or 
voters could amend the law.

Humble said that when the agency in 2011 decided to interpret the 
25-mile rule "as the crow files," there was "hardly any feedback" 
from the public. In recent months, the agency has received some 
complaints from cardholders, he said.

"One of the things you have to do, when writing the rules, is you 
need to make it generally applicable -- so, 25 miles means 25 miles," 
he told The Republic. "Roads change over time. Sometimes, there's 
dirt roads, washes. ... Roads get graded, they become impassable. 
Sometimes, local jurisdictions change roads and make them dead-ends. 
There's just so many variables if you were to try to measure by roads."

If dispensaries continue to open at the current pace, legal home 
cultivation of marijuana will be virtually non-existent, Humble said.

That doesn't sit well with patients like Richard Kline, a Glendale 
resident who uses medical marijuana for the chronic pain from neck 
and back injuries caused by motorcycle wrecks and getting dragged by a truck.

Kline said he and his wife, also a medical-marijuana patient, will 
struggle to pay for their medicine once they renew their 
medical-marijuana cards.

The couple live about 5 miles from a dispensary in Glendale, which 
opened last month.

"This rule and how the state is reading it -- as the crow flies -- is 
just outrageous," Kline said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom