Qualified patients — the DHS has 15 days to process each patient application — can possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot legally. Each can grow up to 12 pot plants in his or her home. However, once a dispensary opens within 25 miles of a residence that's blossoming with virtually free homegrown weed, the law requires patients to buy their medicine at the dispensary at prices expected to cost about $400 an ounce.

Despite the steep price of pot, the industry seems poised to grow even more competitive because of the rising level of interest.

Sobol's company isn't the only one teaching people the ropes. A $300 seminar in Scotts­dale presented by Greenway University, a company started by California entrepreneur Gus Escamilla, drew an estimated 300 people last weekend.

Russ Antkowiak of Aqua Culture in Tempe expects increased of hydroponic equipment and grow lights.
Jamie Peachey
Russ Antkowiak of Aqua Culture in Tempe expects increased of hydroponic equipment and grow lights.
Will Humble of the DHS
Jamie Peachey
Will Humble of the DHS

A crackdown on the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles alone is putting numerous operators out of business — and many may attempt to set up shop in Arizona, despite the likelihood of a residency requirement for licensees.

Among all the hopeful pot-shop owners — even Sobol, to an extent — is a constant drumbeat of caution. They want restrictions (though not too many) because a proverbial free-for-all could mean a swift end to the game. They'd rather be invisible to their detractors. They plan to follow the rules to the letter. They're acutely aware that Prop 203 passed by only about 4,000 votes, that Arizona's fickle, and that mostly conservative, voters could reverse the program less than two years from now, in the next general election.

The emerging leaders in this industry want to take it slow, because if everything goes right, their future in the business will be long.

Dispensaries must be nonprofit. But pot shops in California are nonprofit, too, and this hasn't stopped people from making small fortunes selling legal weed. Could the nonprofit business owners and their employees simply be paying themselves high salaries?

"Bingo," says Jamie Reyes, manager of the Inglewood Wellness Center in California. "I would like to have a franchise out there in Arizona."

It's a virtual certainty that thousands of hopeful patients will begin applying for medical-marijuana cards through the DHS starting in April. Yet this is the age of convenience: The majority of patients won't suddenly turn into urban farmers. By the time the shops open, demand for legal weed will be enormous.

The Scottsdale City Council adopted strict zoning regulations for dispensaries at its January 25 meeting, restricting the shops and grow centers to office complexes and industrial areas. Before the 4-3 vote, Councilman Bob Littlefield ridiculed the idea that potential customers would mind that the shops weren't in areas of the city zoned for retail businesses.

"We could require that these are on top of McDowell Mountain with no roads, and people would still make a ton of money," he said.

Though competition is most intense among the would-be dispensary owners, the new industry's potential also can be seen in the many ancillary businesses springing up.

Doug Banfelder, a commercial insurance specialist in Scottsdale, has spun off a side business, Premier Dispensary Insurance. Geoffery Graehling, a co-owner of a Colorado dispensary, now lives in Tempe plying his trade as one of numerous self-proclaimed consultants in the marijuana business. Other businesses, like Scottsdale's Arizona Medical Marijuana Certificate Centers, aim to hook up potential patients with doctors willing to write recommendations.

Pot-oriented trade shows, colleges, newspapers, and Web sites aim to educate the public on all aspects of the industry — and turn a few bucks in the process. Lawyers, real estate brokers, and other business professionals are benefiting from the rising tide. Sellers of hydroponics equipment and grow lights believe their businesses will boom in the next couple of years.

The state already is planning on cashing in by collecting sales tax on dispensary pot. A bill before the Legislature would add a whopping 300 percent tax on marijuana sales, although Myers' group sees this as a violation of the law and vows to sue if the tax passes. (The bill's sponsor, Representative Steve Farley, D-Tucson, admitted he was thinking the base price of an ounce would be $40. As mentioned, it may be up to 10 times that amount.)

Whatever the tax rate, it's clear that pot will soon be pumping much-needed cash into the treasury.

In some ways, the excitement, risks, and challenges of medical pot in Arizona could be compared to the coming of the Internet, says Jordan Rose, a Scottsdale lawyer whose clients include potential dispensary owners.

The new law's already been good to the Rose family: Jordan's husband, well-known public relations agent Jason Rose, has picked up pot-related clients that include Greenway University, the California pot-business college expanding to Arizona.

Arizona's legalized pot scene will unfold rapidly over the next several months, but in a far more controlled fashion than seen in California or Colorado.

California's robust and somewhat infamous dispensary industry began in 1996, the year Californians passed the Compassionate Use Act. Arizonans also passed a medical-marijuana law that year, one with a major difference: Arizona doctors had to write prescriptions for marijuana, while the California law required patients to obtain mere recommendations from doctors to legally use weed.

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