Arizona medical marijuana patients could obtain 2.5 ounces of the drug every two weeks, which they may smoke or otherwise use at home, and would be allowed to consume edibles infused with marijuana in public, according to proposed guidelines released Friday by the state Department of Health Services.
However, the proposed regulations also require strict oversight by physicians and state authorities to prevent abuse and weed out fraud, according to the rules, which are meant to serve as the framework for how the medical marijuana system will work
Also, in a separate move last week, the Phoenix City Council approved zoning guidelines that govern where different types of marijuana facilities may be located within the city.
ADHS spokeswoman Laura Oxley said anyone interested in submitting suggestions about the proposed state guidelines may access a link on the department's Web site at www.azdhs.gov/prop203 through Jan. 7.
"We would like all of the public to comment on it," Oxley said. "This is a public health system that the voters approved, and it's going to affect the fiber of the community."
The agency will then incorporate those public comments into the final form, which department officials could adopt in mid-February, she said.
Tom Salow, ADHS administrative counsel and rules manager, said the department attempted to cover all the bases, but anticipates the public will give the proposal a critical eye.
"We know people out there will see gaps or have a better way to set up the rules, and we want to hear from them," he said.
The proposed state guidelines also stipulate:
- A patient must be suffering from a debilitating illness such as glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Hepatitis C, cancer or other qualifying chronic condition to be eligible to receive a medical marijuana recommendation from his or her primary care physician, and that doctor must have seen the patient at least four times in the previous year to establish and ongoing relationship.
- Patients would have to submit an application to the DHS, with a $150 fee, to receive a state registry identification card.
- Patients who live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary would be able to grow up to 12 plants themselves.
- Dispensaries would be run by nonprofits staffed by organizers who have lived in the state for at least two years. State fees to open a dispensary would run $5,000.
- The dispensaries would have to be overseen by an on-call physician who would distribute educational materials about drug interaction and safe use. That physician would not be allowed to write medical marijuana recommendations for patients.
- Each dispensary would be able to sell marijuana or marijuana-infused foods prepared in a commercial kitchen. All facilities would be subject to state inspection, and employees would have to account for all marijuana produced and sold.
Oxley said officials are still working out some issues, such as what would happen if there is a rush of groups submitting dispensary applications once the rules are in place.
"It's just not something we've been able to tackle just yet," she said.
Last Wednesday, the Phoenix City Council approved new zoning rules to govern where medical marijuana should be grown, processed and sold in the city. Dispensaries will be restricted to commercially zoned property at least 250 feet away from residential areas; 1,320 feet from schools, parks and public community centers; and 500 feet from houses of worship. Dispensaries would have to be at least a mile apart from each other, could not have drive-thru service, and would be limited to the operating hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Growing and processing facilities would be confined to areas zoned for agricultural and industrial uses, respectively, with similar distance restrictions in mind, albeit with the residential distance requirement increased to 1,000 feet.
Each facility would require a use permit from the city, said City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, whose district includes Ahwatukee Foothills.
Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative, approved by a statewide vote last month, opened the door for about 120 dispensaries in Arizona, one per every 10 pharmacies.