Hundreds of people across the state have chimed in on the Arizona Department of Health Services' proposed guidelines for setting up a system to distribute medical marijuana, and officials are considering those comments as they begin drafting a final version.
"We're working on a new set of rules and we'll have them available at the end of the month," said Laura Oxley, a DHS spokeswoman.
In February, DHS will host a series of public meetings on the guidelines in Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson, and officials plan to begin accepting applications for ID cards and to open dispensaries in April.
Many of the comments submitted to DHS took issue with a provision that would require a patient to have seen his or her primary care doctor at least four times in the previous year to establish an ongoing relationship. The objection is that it's too long to wait for someone suffering with a debilitating illness.
Some thought the fees for patient ID cards, pegged at $150, are too expensive.
Others took issue with the smoking aspect of medical marijuana, saying it should be prohibited in the presence of children because of second-hand smoke, and because it could desensitize young people to the hazards of marijuana use.
"The Legislature should impose criminal penalties for smoking marijuana in the presence of children," one commenter wrote. "Children exposed to marijuana smoke will suffer the same health hazards as exposure to tobacco smoke."
Another wrote, "I am an advocate, but I do not see any reason for using smokeable marijuana as it exposes others to the effects. If we are truly doing this for medicinal purposes there should be no second-hand exposure to a controlled substance."
Marijuana derivatives such as hash and oils should be dealt with in the law, as well, according to some commenters.
Not all were supportive of the effort, however. Some opposed the law entirely.
"I just want to say how disappointed I am with the passing of the medical marijuana initiative," according to one commenter. "I know this is just another way of legalizing marijuana here in Arizona as well as other states."
According to the draft proposal, 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.
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 a doctor.
• 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 non-profits staffed by organizers who have lived in the state for at least two years. State fees to open a dispensary would be $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.
Last month, 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.
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.