PHOENIX -- Arizona's medical marijuana program continues to have growing pains.
Dispensaries' supplies will be tight at first, so state officials will allow newly licensed dispensaries to delay opening their doors to customers for weeks or even months in order to acquire pot to sell, the state's top regulator said Thursday.
Dispensaries can acquire marijuana from other dispensaries and authorized caregivers, but many plan to grow their own. However, it can take several months to grow to harvest.
``There can be however much time between getting their operating license and actually beginning operations,'' said Will Humble, Health Services Department director. ``The quantities that are available for patients will be limited to a fair amount ... until the cultivating facilities are up and running.''
Once dispensaries open, the state requires them to be open at least 30 hours a week and be capable of serving patients, Humble said, adding, ``That doesn't mean that every patient gets what they want.''
The state's willingness to allow delays between licensing and opening is partly a response to the fact that operators aren't allowed to grow marijuana before being licensed but are also supposed to have inventory on hand when they open.
``Everyone is seemingly finding the same `Catch 22'- which is you've got to be open and selling but we won't allow you to grow the product ...,'' said Harvey Jackson, a Lake Havasu City attorney.
Arizona voters approved the medical marijuana law in 2010, authorizing use for cancer and certain other medical conditions. More than 30,000 people have been issued user cards, but the dispensary system is just now starting to come on line following delays because of court fights over the law.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge refused Thursday to temporarily put on hold his recent ruling that federal drug laws don't stand in the way of implementing Arizona's medical marijuana law.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who contends it's illegal for government officials to implement the law, said he would next ask an appeals court to issue a stay.
Nearly 100 dispensaries in August won the right to be licensed to serve specific parts of the state, but the state so far has only inspected and licensed three- one in Glendale in the Phoenix area, one in Tucson and one serving the Willcox-Bowie area of rural northeastern Cochise County.
It was anticipated all along that there'd be delays in dispensaries getting initial supplies because if the law had been fully implemented promptly, without delays in authorizing dispensaries, not even caregivers would have ready supplies to share, Humble said.
Now, however, some dispensaries can get their initial marijuana supplies as donations from caregivers on their boards of directors, Humble said.
Caregivers can donate marijuana either for altruistic reasons or for their own self-interest if they hope to be eventually hired as growers for dispensaries, said Doug Banfelder, an insurance agent who is a co-founder the Arizona Wellness Chamber of Commerce.
``That's the only place it can come from at this point,'' Banfelder said of caregivers.
Jackson, who said the typical dispensary operator he represents is a semi-retired business person, said relying on donations of marijuana from caregivers isn't a sound startup model for everybody.
``Somehow in the real world, my clients are worried that the citizen isn't going to come in and say `here, dispensary, have my marijuana and I'll come back tomorrow and buy it from you ...'''
Under the law, cardholders lose their growing authorizations once a dispensary opens within 25 miles of their homes.
Medical marijuana program: http://www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana/
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