PHOENIX – Arizona officials used a bingo machine with sets of numbered
air-blown balls Tuesday as they picked winners from among hundreds of applicants
for certificates to run medical marijuana dispensaries around the state.
The 4-hour drawing to pick winners among 404 applicants for 68 dispensary
districts constituted a key implementation step for the voter-created health
program whose legality is still in question because marijuana remains illegal
under federal law. An additional 29 districts only had one applicant each so no
drawing was held for those.
Health Services Director Will Humble said applicants allocated dispensary
certificates now must file more paperwork and then pass various inspections
within the next year before getting licenses to operate.
He said some dispensaries could open their doors within a few weeks if their
operators’ preparations are well under way but that it may take others until
Humble said he was unaware of any other state’s medical marijuana program using
a bingo system. He said his staff identified the bingo system after he said he
wanted a selection method providing transparency while making random selections
among qualified applicants for each certificate.
“We plagiarized a lot from other states, but we didn’t plagiarize this,”
His department streamed video of the drawing on the Internet, and Humble said
it would be posted on YouTube.
The drawing was held one day after state Attorney General Tom Horne issued a
non-binding opinion saying the state legally cannot authorize distribution of
marijuana because federal law trumps the 2010 voter-approved law creating the
program. However, he said the drawings could proceed because it’s not the final
step in the implementation process.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s administration initially resisted having to launch the
dispensary system but since has proceeded with implementation after losing
several court fights. In one case, a federal judge refused to rule on the
federal pre-emption issue when raised by Brewer and Horne.
Nearly 30,000 people already have Arizona permits to use medical marijuana, but
they’ve had to grow pot or get it from other permitted individuals until
dispensaries begin operating. They’ll lose that authorization once a dispensary
opens within 25 miles of where they live.
The Arizona medical marijuana law, put on the ballot by initiative and narrowly
approved by voters, prohibits the department from identifying dispensary
applicants, but there’s no prohibition on advertising or other
self-identification by applicants or operators.
There originally were 486 dispensary applicants, but the number was reduced to
432 because some applicants or their applications were deemed ineligible or
The law established 126 dispensary districts, but there were no applicants for
27 of those. Of the remaining 99, two were not included in the allocation
process because of pending court cases.
Most of the competition for certificates was concentrated in the Phoenix and
Tucson areas but also smaller cities such as Flagstaff, Coolidge urban areas and
Coolidge in Pinal County. A district that includes Verde Valley communities in
northeast Yavapai County had the most applicants with 14.
Blank spots on the dispensary map will include Indian reservations, where no
applications were filed, but Humble said 98 percent of the state’s population
would live within 25 miles of a dispensary.
Horne on Monday expressed confidence that a judge will block the dispensary
process because of federal pre-emption as part of a pending court case involving
one dispensary district in Maricopa County, but an attorney for dispensary
operators said Horne’s confidence is misplaced.
“Right now it’s the law of the land,” attorney Ryan Hurley said Tuesday.