A group representing would-be medical marijuana dealers is objecting to what it says are burdensome - and illegal - rules being proposed by the state health department.
Allan Sobol, spokesman for the Arizona Association of Dispensary Professionals, said the law approved in November by voters requires state Health Director Will Humble to enact rules for how the system of distributing marijuana by non-profit organizations will work.
But Sobol said Humble has gone beyond what voters approved in imposing restrictions on when a doctor can write the necessary recommendation for a patient to buy up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
Humble said Proposition 203 does require there be a "bona fide physician-patient relationship." He said the rules are designed to do just that.
"What we're trying to do is create some checks in the system to provide some safety," he said.
"The other objective is to prevent this from becoming a recreational marijuana act."
He said that is what has happened in places like California and Colorado where would-be marijuana users can go into a walk-in clinic, get an examination and walk out with the required recommendation.
The rules Humble and his staff crafted have defined that requirement for a physician-patient relationship to mean that there has been contact for at least a year, with at least four visits dealing with the condition for which the patient is seeking marijuana.
"That's unheard of anywhere in the medical industry," Sobol said. "You can walk into an emergency room tomorrow morning and complain about backache or something and they would prescribe you OxyContin on the spot."
Humble pointed out there is an alternate option for patients: They can get a recommendation from a doctor without any prior visits if that physician conducts a comprehensive medical history and physical exam and agrees to take on the primary responsibility of managing the person's ailment.
But Sobol said that, too, is more stringent than required for any other medication.
Humble said some restrictions on who can write a recommendation for marijuana are necessary.
"What we want to do is make sure that physicians take that seriously, and before they write that recommendation they do a complete physical and a full assessment so that we don't end up with these doctors that are seeing 40-50 patients a day and just giving out recommendations every 10 minutes," he said.
Sobol also said the law specifically requires those rules be enacted in a way "without imposing an undue burden" on the dispensaries. What Humble has proposed, he said, does create significant financial problems.
One of the most notable, he said, is the requirement that would-be dispensaries have not only a specific location but a certificate of occupancy before being able to even apply to get one of the 125 licenses available.
"This would require an applicant to not only secure a location for his/her dispensary and cultivation center, but build-it-out as well at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, all at risk, since all is done without any assurances that they will obtain a license," Sobol said in his formal comments on the regulations. "This rule alone will serve to eliminate all but the wealthiest of applicants."
Sobol also said there is no authority for the health department to require dispensaries to obtain a bond, something he said would be outrageously expensive given that insurance companies are being asked to provide coverage for something that remains illegal under federal law.
Humble stressed that the draft rules are only preliminary. And he said the purpose for making them public was to get feedback like this.
More to the point, Humble said he wants to be sure that anything he is doing is within the scope of what Proposition 203 allows - and avoid the kind of lawsuit that Sobol said will be filed if these draft rules become final.
"The last thing I want to do is to fight some kind of battle in court over whether or not we exceeded our authority," he said. Humble said his agency will review all of the comments on the preliminary rules, which are due by the end of this week and then decide what changes, if any, to make.
Other objections by Sobol include:
• Requiring dispensaries to provide detailed information on cultivation, including the type of soil used and the watering schedule;
• A mandate for dispensaries to have 24/7 video monitoring by the health department;
• The need to spell out the weight of cookies and other products into which marijuana was infused;
• Limits on who can serve as a medical director of a dispensary.