The owner of one of the state's new marijuana clubs is asking a judge to rule that his operation and similar ones can legally keep their doors open.
Allan Sobol contends there is nothing illegal about operating a club where dues-paying members, once inside, are entitled to pick up free samples of the drug. He said the drugs are being given away by a separate nonprofit entity to which he simply provides space as well as tests what they are providing for purity and potency.
What is causing concern is that state Health Director Will Humble said last week, both in a blog item and to Capitol Media Services, that he is asking the Attorney General's Office to investigate. Humble said he believes the entire operation is "inconsistent" with the provisions of the medical marijuana law voters approved last November.
There was no immediate response from Humble, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
That law sets up a system where individuals who have a doctor's recommendation can get a state-issued card allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
It also required Humble's agency to license about 125 dispensaries where those with the ID cards could get the drugs.
But Humble refused to issue any licenses after Gov. Jan Brewer questioned whether Arizona could enact its law in the face of federal statutes making possession, sale and distribution of the drug a crime. A lawsuit filed in federal court asking for a ruling is awaiting action.
In the meantime, marijuana patients are entitled to grow their own drugs because there are no dispensaries. More to the point, from Sobol's perspective, they are free to give away what they do not need to qualified organizations.
One of those organizations exists within the walls of Sobol's 2811 Club in north Phoenix, a club where dues are $75 per visit or $700 a year. At the current time, the amount of free marijuana available on each visit is about a tenth of an ounce.
Humble said there is nothing wrong with one marijuana user giving away excess drugs to another. But he said the law requires that nothing of value be exchanged.
He told Capitol Media Services the system Sobol is operating - where members have to pay dues to get access to the nonprofit's give-away drugs - appears to be "a shell game."
Sobol acknowledged that his company does make "donations" to the nonprofit.
But Sobol, in the lawsuit he filed on his own behalf, said none of that makes the operation an illegal sale of marijuana.
"There is no correlation between the club membership dues and the freely distributed medical marijuana," he wrote in his lawsuit. "The quantity, potency and street value of the free samples may vary from day to day, subject to availability, while the membership dues are consistently the same. It is conceivable that on a given day a member of the club could receive the maximum allowable amount of 2.5 ounces while still paying the same club membership of $75."
There was no immediate response from Humble to the lawsuit.