The Health Department on Monday signaled an eased stance on several components of Arizona’s new medical marijuana law, with the release of the second draft of the proposed rules for the yet-to-be implemented system.
Most notably, the new rules: allow wholesale pot cultivation; scrap a requirement for a patient to have at least a year-long relationship with a recommending physician; and give clarity to how dispensary licenses will be doled out and where the dispensaries will be.
The second and latest draft of the proposed rules was developed after Arizona Department of Health Services officials considered the more than 1,500 public comments the department received on its first draft.
Health Department Director Will Humble said he and his staff were pleased with the comments they received.
Many of the public comments criticized the patient-physician relationship definition found in the first draft, and Humble said he recognized that the original requirements would have put some legitimately ill people at a disadvantage.
Humble used the example of a sudden cancer prognosis, requiring immediate treatment, to illustrate how a year-long relationship would be restrictive for a person who could possibly derive value from medical marijuana.
Instead, the new proposed rules would require recommending physicians to review a potential medical pot user’s medical records going back at least one year, perform an in-person consultation and give several attestations to the Health Department about the legitimacy of the benefits an individual will derive from medical marijuana.
With regard to the cultivation and inventory control measures the Health Department wants to see, Humble said he received several comments outlining very sophisticated inventory-control methods that would not demand that each dispensary necessarily provide its own cultivation.
The “batch” controls outlined in the new proposed rules establish a unique tracking number, similar to a barcode, for distinct parcels of marijuana. That tracking number would follow the marijuana from initial seedling or cutting to harvesting, packaging and wholesale and retail sale to qualified patients.
The overhauled approach to inventory control and cultivation requirements for dispensaries means a smaller number of large-scale cultivators could end up providing many dispensaries with pot, allowing them to focus on point-of-sale control and dealing with patients.
The new proposed rules also shed light on how the Health Department wants to handle giving out dispensary licenses, an issue mostly left out of the first draft.
Humble said that in defining how dispensary licenses should be given out, he wanted a system that would ensure rural access to dispensaries, thus preventing urban clustering.
To do that, Humble said he decided to define geographically limited districts where one dispensary can be. The districts, called Community Health Analysis Areas or “CHAAs,” roughly reflect population density throughout the state, with about 43 defined for the greater Phoenix area, about 13 for the Tucson area, and the rest dispersed around the state.
For each of the CHAAs, one dispensary applicant who meets all of the Health Departments requirements will be selected randomly. That one applicant will then have initial authorization to build out a facility and appropriately deal with the city or municipal zoning and use-permit process.
The Health Department will then perform a final inspection and determine whether the facility can be given final authorization to begin growing and dispensing marijuana. If the Health Department finds failure to meet some of the department’s requirements, the applicant could lose that initial authorization, which would then be given to another randomly selected applicant from the same CHAA.
Humble said he now wants more input, particularly from cities and law enforcement, for ways that the final draft of the rules can be made even more effective.
The Health Department will hold four public meetings about the draft rules between Feb. 14 and Feb. 17.
The new rules are open to public comment until Feb. 18, and the final rules will be released on March 28. The Health Department will begin accepting applications for qualified patients on April 14 and will begin accepting dispensary license applications on May 1.
Public meetings on the proposed rules:
• Flagstaff: Monday, Feb. 14, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Flagstaff City Hall, Council Chambers, 211 W. Aspen Ave.
• Phoenix: Tuesday, Feb. 15, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, The Great Hall, 1100 S. McAllister Ave.
• Tucson: Wednesday, Feb. 16, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., University of Arizona James E. Rodgers College of Law, Ares Auditorium, 1201 E. Speedway.
• Phoenix: Thursday, Feb. 17, 9 a.m. to noon, ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, The Great Hall, 1100 S. McAllister Ave.
Biggest changes between first and second draft of the proposed pot regulations:
A patient must have at least a one-year relationship with recommending physician, and at least four visits documenting the recommending condition.
A recommending physician must see medical records going back at least one year, and must give attestation to several Health Department requirements.
Each dispensary must grow at least 70 percent of its own inventory, and can purchase up to 30 percent from another dispensary.
Dispensaries can choose to either grow their own marijuana, or purchase it from a dispensary with a high-volume cultivation facility. A “batch” system of inventory control will be implemented to track cultivation and dispersion of medical marijuana. Strict rules about transporting between cultivation sites and dispensaries must be followed.
Dispensary license applications
Potential dispensary owners might be randomly selected from applicant pool, evaluated by third-party scorer or given on a first-come-first-serve basis after meeting certain qualifications.
One dispensary license will be given for each Community Health Analysis Area, and will be selected randomly if more than one qualified applicant wants to be licensed in the CHAA.
$200,000 surety bond required for each dispensary, or proof of at least $1 million in liquid cash.
No surety bond or liquid cash requirement.
On-call medical directors would serve as intermediaries for patients, physicians, the Health Department and medical boards to provide information and look for abuses of the system. A medical director could deny a patient his or her pot if abuse is suspected and could oversee as many as three dispensaries.
Medical directors will also have to provide training to dispensary operators at least once each year on best practices, but can serve as many dispensaries as they choose.
Cultivation sites and dispensaries must have video surveillance on every part of their operation and must be able to allow the Health Department to watch the video surveillance in real-time over the Internet.
Cultivation sites and dispensaries will not have to provide a real-time watching ability to the Health Department, but must be able to make the videos available to the Health Department.