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2:57 AM Wed, Feb. 20th

Marijuana draft rules draw favorable comments

Medical marijuana dispensary requirements changed

PHOENIX - The Arizona Department of Health Services released more than 1,500 comments Friday on the latest draft of the rules governing the use and sale of medical marijuana in the state. According to the comments released by the department, most people seem pleased with the changes that were made to the draft rules at the end of January.

The first version of the rules released in December received more than 1,300 comments. The state closed public comment on the rules on Feb. 18. The department also held public meetings in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson in February to collect comments.

According to the ADHS' website, the department expects to have the final copy of the rules finished by March 28 and will start accepting applications for dispensaries in May. The department will then announce who will receive the certificates to open a dispensary this summer.

Many people liked the removal of the requirement that dispensaries grow at least 70 percent of their own product.

A number of people liked the idea of using the department's Community Health Analysis Areas to more evenly distribute the certificates to operate a dispensary throughout the state. However, many people disliked the idea that there would be only one dispensary per area. Mohave County will have eight areas.

Others argued that patients should have the right to grow their own plants even if they were within 25 miles of a dispensary. Many people commented that they would not be able to afford dispensary prices and would be deprived of the medicine they needed.

The department also received a lot of comments against a proposed lottery system to determine who gets a dispensary certificate in each area. The draft rules state that if the department gets more than one eligible applicant for a dispensary certificate in an area, there will be a lottery to see which applicant gets the certificate. A number of people who commented said that the certificate should go to the best-qualified applicant or that there should be more than one dispensary per area.

Others wanted more information on the dispensary application process, such as how the applications would be scored and what information the department was seeking from applicants.

A number of people commenting asked why the drugs wasn't sold through pharmacies instead of creating dispensaries and the rules needed to govern them.

Others disagreed with the idea of taxing medical marijuana. A number of comments pointed out that the language in the proposition did not include a tax on the drug and that dispensaries were required to be not-for-profit organizations. Taxing the drug would only increase its cost and prevent some people from being able to afford it, some said.

Others liked how the department had changed the patient/doctor relationship requirement. Patients are still required to have a doctor examine their medical records for the last year but are not required to stay with the same doctor for a year before being prescribed the drug.

However, many people still felt that the $160 (or $80 for low income patients) price tag for a marijuana card and the $5,000 price tag to open a dispensary were still too steep and should be lowered.

Other comments suggested that:

• Dispensaries should be allowed more than one entrance and exit door for safety reasons.

• Dispensaries should be allowed more room to grow.

• That the state should allow business to grow and sell marijuana to dispensaries.

• The state should allow for an increase in dispensaries as the demand for medical marijuana increases.

• A state lab or other organization should test the drug for safety and strength to make sure patients are getting what they need.

• Marijuana vending machines should be outlawed.

• Limit the number of patients a doctor can prescribe the drug to.