Arizona pot sellers will pay hefty fees, with no guarantees

Medical marijuana dispensaries and buyers line up

LAURIE AVOCADO/Wikimedia Commons<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->The storefront of a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles.

LAURIE AVOCADO/Wikimedia Commons<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->The storefront of a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles.

PHOENIX - The Arizona Department of Health Services is gearing up to start taking applications for medical marijuana dispensaries.

According to its website, the department will release the dispensary certificate application form in May and will start accepting the applications between June 1 and June 30. The certificates will be awarded in August.

The Arizona Department of Health recommends downloading its medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate application checklist before applying. The department is only accepting dispensary applications online.

Only one dispensary will be allowed in each of the 126 community health analysis areas set up by the department. There are seven CHAAs in Mohave County. If more than one person applies for a dispensary certificate, the department will determine who gets the permit using an evaluative process.

The cost to apply for a dispensary registration certificate is $5,000. The department will refund $1,000 of the cost back to a person if their dispensary application is not approved. However, there is no refund if a person withdraws their application or does not submit a complete application. The certificates are non-transferable.

People wanting to open a dispensary must be over the age of 21 and a resident of Arizona for more than three consecutive years prior to the date of the application. They must pass a background check. They must also submit information on whether they have been delinquent in paying taxes, child support or student loans, if they have filed for bankruptcy and if they have access to $150,000 in startup costs. The information will be used to determine the best-qualified applicant if more than one person applies for a certificate in an area.

In order to open a dispensary, a person must meet all local zoning requirements and apply for approval to operate the dispensary at least 60 days before the expiration of their dispensary registration certificate. If they fail to do so they may be permanently disqualified from applying again.

Planning and zoning officials from the city of Kingman and Mohave County said they have received several calls a day about zoning requirements to open a dispensary, but haven't had anyone file paperwork.

According to the county zoning ordinance, no special permit is necessary to open a dispensary in the unincorporated areas of the county. Dispensaries are allowed in the county in any zone that a drug store can operate in, except C-1 neighborhood commercial. The stores must meet all state requirements and county zoning setbacks.

In the city, dispensaries are allowed in C-3 service business, I-1 light industry and I-2 heavy industry zones and must meet the requirements for those zones. Dispensary operators must prove they have permission from the state to operate a dispensary. All dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from another dispensary and any residential areas. They must be at least 2,500 feet from any schools, churches, parks, mental health facilities, substance abuse facilities, and community centers. Dispensaries can only be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Growth operations are only allowed in conjunction with a dispensary.

The Department of Health Services started accepting applications and approving medical marijuana cards to patients on April 14. According to its website, the first person approved to receive a card was a 60-year-old Scottsdale man suffering from Crohn's disease.

The department received 718 requests for medical marijuana cards between April 14-20 and 579 of those requests were approved, including one from the Kingman area and three from the Bullhead City area.

According to data from the department's website, the majority of people requesting cards are male and over the age of 51. The top three medical reasons people are requesting the cards are chronic pain (85 percent), nausea (17 percent) and muscle spasms (17 percent).

The department is only accepting online applications for the cards. In order to qualify for a card, a patient must be diagnosed by a doctor with one of several debilitating medical conditions or a chronic disease that causes symptoms approved for treatment by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

In order to apply for a card, a patient must fill out an online application, see a doctor for diagnosis and turn in the ADHS' physician certification form. It will cost a patient $150 to receive or renew a medical marijuana card. Patients who are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, can have the price reduced to $75.

Patients are allowed to have up to two and a half ounces of usable marijuana in their possession and may purchase from a dispensary every 14 days. They may also apply to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants at their home in an enclosed, locked facility if they are more than 25 miles away from a dispensary.

The department has acknowledged that marijuana dispensaries will not be open when the first patient cards are released. Therefore all patients applying for the first issue of cards will be approved for the growth of their own supply if they ask. That designation may change if the patient renews their card and a dispensary has opened within 25 miles of their home.

For more information on state marijuana rules, visit www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana/. For information on marijuana dispensary zoning in the county, call (928) 757-0903. For information on marijuana dispensary zoning in the city of Kingman, call (928) 753-8560.