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Marijuana dispensaries get deadline reprieve

(AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean)

(AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jason Bean)

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled today that given the obstacles encountered by medical marijuana dispensaries since 98 licenses were awarded in August 2013, the requirement to open within one year is unreasonable and must be revamped.

So far, 61 dispensaries throughout Arizona have been approved for operation. For the 37 other dispensary license holders, the ruling means they will be able to keep their licenses and continue preparing their dispensaries to open.

A variety of reasons were cited by the dispensary license holders who were not able to open their doors before the August 7 deadline.

One has become engaged in a legal battle with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. He has asserted the county cannot process marijuana dispensary zoning applications because doing so leads to the violation of federal drug laws. Montgomery’s suit aims to settle the discrepancy that assails medical marijuana programs in every state where they’ve been adopted. His claims were rejected by a Superior Court judge in December 2012, but the suit is now awaiting a trial in state appeals court.

Others have run into other zoning problems, political opposition, procedural delays or processing errors made by the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services in their operation approval process.

For those reasons, Superior Court Judge Randall Warner said the Health Department’s rules “unduly burden dispensaries by giving the director no discretion to consider individual circumstances.”

For the Health Department, the ruling means the medical marijuana rules the agency established in 2011 must be rewritten to reflect today’s ruling.

That’s not a simple process, Health Department Director Will Humble noted today in a blog post about the ruling. “We’ll begin the process of adjusting our regulations to be in accordance with today’s ruling, but it will likely take several months to have everything in line.”

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