Thursday, June 7, 2012

Broad Access to Retail Pot Likely in Urban Areas

The two-week application period for medical marijuana dispensaries closed at the end of last month, and the results bode well for most Qualified Patientsʼ (QPs) ability readily to access to consumer cannabis products within the year.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) authorizes a limited number of non-profit dispensaries that can cultivate marijuana and sell it to QPs in various forms.  Implementation of this part of the AMMA was on hold for more than nine months, thanks to litigation initiated first by the State and then another suit filed by would-be dispensary applicants, who challenged parts of the regulatory scheme implemented by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) , and won some victories.  You can read about the outcome of the litigation in posts from January 5, February 2, and May 17, 2012.

ADHS is now moving forward with full implementation.  It set a two-week period for the initial round of dispensary applications, and by its own rules determined that it would only accept dispensary applications once per year thereafter.  So folks who did not meet the deadline this year cannot even apply now until sometime in 2013.

The AMMA only allows one medical marijuana dispensary for every 10 licensed pharmacies in the state, which amounts to approximately 126.  ADHS just happens to have a map that divides the state into 126 areas for health analysis − Community Health Analysis Areas (CHAA).  ADHS is going to award just one dispensary certificate per area in this first year.

A total of 484 dispensary applications came in by the deadline.  ADHS is now reviewing them, and will award certificates on August 7.

There were 27 CHAAs that did not draw a single dispensary applicant.  Those CHAAs are primarily in rural areas, including the stateʼs many Native American reservations.  You can find a color-coded map showing the number of applicants per CHAA on the ADHS website.
One of the reasons that some of the least populous areas of the state did not draw a single dispensary application is financial.  The ADHS regulations required the prospective dispensary to have $150,000 in the bank at least 30 days before the date of the application.  The rural areas are also some of the stateʼs poorest regions.

They also generally happened to be the areas with the fewest QPs, meaning the smallest customer base.  The dispensaries are supposed to be non-profits, but the large number of applicants for the areas with the most QPs signals that the would-be dispensary operators hope to break even while paying themselves well for their services.

The Estrella CHAA drew the most applications − 16.  That's an area in southwest Phoenix.  Four other CHAAs had 13 applicants, Flagstaff East, Yavapai County Northeast, Scottsdale North, and Tempe North.
The really happy dispensary applicants are the lucky 24 who are the only ones in a CHAA.  They are guaranteed a dispensary certificate if they meet the requirements of the AMMA and its implementing regulations.  For the CHAAs with multiple applicants, ADHS will conduct a lottery on August 7 and choose the winner at random from among all qualified applicants. 

There are still many hurdles dispensaries will have to clear after winning the certificates.  But slowly and surely, Arizona is moving toward easy access to quality marijuana products for most QPs, without them having to grow their own.

And that surely means more marijuana use by folks in Arizonaʼs places of work.