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Health Department tweaks final marijuana rules to outlaw hemp cultivation

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The Arizona Department of Health Services made the state’s medical marijuana rules official yesterday by submitting them to the Secretary of State’s Office, albeit with a few slight alterations from the previous “final” version of the rules they released March 28.

Health Department Director Will Humble said three alterations were in order, including one spurred by a story published last week in the Arizona Capitol Times. The story highlighted the declaration of Michelle Graye, a Tucson resident and executive committee member of the Arizona chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, that the Health Department had “essentially legalized hemp in Arizona.”

Although Humble said his interpretation of Arizona’s medical marijuana law did not permit growing hemp, he decided to clarify the rules this week anyway to remove any doubt.

To achieve that goal, Humble removed all references to the gender of cannabis plants in the rules.

Because the new state medical marijuana law allows qualified patients who live more than 25 miles from an operational dispensary to grow their own pot, and because the rules previously said only the more potent, bud-producing female plants would count toward those 12 plants, Graye said she intended to grow her state-permitted 12 female pot plants, but also a large volume of male cannabis plants, commonly referred to as “hemp.”

The rule change, Humble said, will cause any cannabis plant, regardless of gender, to be counted toward an individual’s home cultivation count.

Tom Ryan, an attorney who serves as the chief compliance officer with Greenway University, a marijuana business school located in Denver, Colo., said large-scale, male plant cultivation issues could also have been clarified by adding a couple qualifiers to the section of the rules that regulate self-growing.

“I would tweak it a little bit, and say you’re allowed to grow (marijuana) from clones or seeds, so that your count is a little higher than you’re allowed later,” Ryan said, “then when the plants flower, and show their sex, you destroy the extra plants, you wouldn’t get in trouble for the small excess a person had earlier. So, once they flower, they’re part of your count.”

Humble felt that simply removing gender qualifications from the rules altogether was the best way to address the issue.

The other two changes deal with permitting for medical marijuana dispensaries.

The rules also now require dispensary applicants to provide documentation demonstrating that a municipality has approved their dispensary location, rather than just an attestation, Humble said.

The documentation requirement can be fulfilled, Humble said, with a letter from the jurisdiction that clearly states the proposed dispensary location is in compliance with the zoning rules the municipality has adopted. A use permit will not be required, however.

Finally, Humble said he changed the rules for demonstrating asset liquidity for dispensary applicants in areas where more than one person has applied. The altered requirement states that a person must demonstrate that the minimum $150,000 start-up cash has been in one bank account for at least 30 days.

Humble said someone alerted him during a forum that without that sort of requirement, the rules would have allowed a “deviously minded” person to move money from one account to another, gather banking records from each, then show a combined start-up fund of $150,000, when in actuality, the person may have only deposited – and immediately withdrawn – $30,000 through five bank accounts.

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