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Arizonans to begin applying for medical marijuana today

Arizona’s medical marijuana program is hitting a milestone Thursday as patients start turning in applications for the drug to help treat cancer and other diseases in what officials believe is the only completely electronic application system in the country.

Since the application for a medical marijuana card is electronic, anyone hoping to apply in person or by phone with the Arizona Department of Health Services will be turned away. And if there are any kinks in the online system, they also will need to report the problem online.

Department Director Will Humble said he sympathizes with people who aren’t accustomed to computers but said the system has to be online in order to be efficient.

“The bottom line is voters in Arizona passionately believe the government should work efficiently and effectively as it possibly can, and that means we’ve got to use technology to reduce administrative costs, and that means we’ve got to have an electronic system,” Humble said. “The moment you process a sheet of paper and use the mail, you have just dropped your efficiency by hundreds of percent.”

Patients first will have to do about a half-hour of data entry with things like their age, address and medical condition. They’ll then have to attach documents to their applications that include a photograph of themselves, a photo ID, and a signed doctor’s “attestation” that the patient needs medical marijuana and will not give or sell it to anyone else.

Those who don’t have a computer will have to find one to apply, and those who aren’t that skilled with them should get some help from someone they know, Humble said.

“That might be bringing your daughter or nephew or niece or someone who has better computer skills — have them come over for an hour, give them some lemonade,” he said. “For people who are not that computer literate it will take a helping hand from somebody they know.”

He said people may begin getting medical marijuana cards within the next week, and those who are denied or have incomplete applications will get emails telling them so.

Humble said the department will be able to process 500 applications a day, whether they’re approved or denied.

Last month, the department finalized the rules that patients, pot shops and caregivers need to follow in order to consume and distribute medical marijuana, which Arizona voters narrowly approved in November, becoming the 15th state in the country to pass such a measure.

Pot shops can begin turning in their applications to sell marijuana in Arizona in June, and the first patients will begin receiving their medical marijuana in late summer or early fall.

Humble believes Arizona will have a responsible medical marijuana program that avoids problems other states have experienced, including large numbers of unqualified people getting pot. He said that’s because Arizona has more stringent requirements than other states, including requiring patients to submit doctor attestations and making pot shops have medical directors with medical licenses on site.

Still, some undeserving people likely will be approved for medical marijuana, he said.

“There is absolutely no way that every single person who gets a card will have a true debilitating condition,” Humble said. “People will slip in. But my objective is to keep it as completely medical as we can.”

Humble’s estimates on how many Arizonans will qualify for medical marijuana have varied from 20,000 to 100,000, but now he said he’s not sure how many there will be and that only time will tell.

In order to get medical marijuana, patients must have cancer, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other chronic or debilitating diseases. If they’re approved, they will be allowed to buy 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks or grow a limited number of plants themselves if they live 25 miles from a dispensary.

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