A friend of a business partner suggested he get into the marijuana business, he says. Besides wanting to open a Tucson-area dispensary, Hamilton says his company will focus on research and development of pot that targets specific medical needs.

"One strain might be anti-nausea, another might be very powerful for pain management," he says.

The specialty-weed niche interests Edward Suter, too. A nuclear-medicine physician with a Mesa practice, Suter advertises on one Web site as someone who'll write a recommendation for medical marijuana. But when asked what part of the industry he's most interested in, his voice takes a dreamy tone.

High-quality marijuana buds line the shelves at Nature's Own Wellness Centers in
Colorado. Owner Travis Pollock plans to run a dispensary in Arizona.
High-quality marijuana buds line the shelves at Nature's Own Wellness Centers in Colorado. Owner Travis Pollock plans to run a dispensary in Arizona.

"I want to get into growing," he says.

Erica Gildersleeve, a human-resources manager for a Scottsdale auto-glass firm, says it's "edibles" that will set her medical pot company apart from the rest, should she be lucky enough to obtain a state license. The board of directors for her corporation, The Holistic Choice, has two doctors and various business experts to help run a planned dispensary in the Valley.

Gildersleeve wants to exploit her passion for recipes and cooking with an off-site pot-infusion center. The company's contracting with a local restaurant that's open for lunch and dinner. Before and after hours, Gildersleeve's partners, she says, would produce high-quality, marijuana-laden food products at the restaurant. One of her sisters, who has a degree in nutrition, would help make sure the cakes, cookies, and other goods are made with healthy ingredients, she says.

Patric Allan, who owns a healthcare-marketing company and an insurance firm in the East Valley, plans to open a shop called Chronic Comfort. He's another founding member of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project and says he "contributed heavily" to the campaign. He knows how to run a business but acknowledges that he has shortcomings when it comes to growing marijuana.

"We're not sure how that's going to play out," Allan says. "The only people who have background in this right now have been working under the radar, if you will."

Yet cultivation might not be such a problem for Nick Lockwood, a restaurant manager who hopes to open a dispensary. The father of one of his business partners owns an agricultural-supply company, Lockwood says, "and we do have someone in mind who can help with cultivation."

Travis Pollock, meanwhile, says he knows plenty about growing pot — because his businesses have been doing it for years in Colorado. He's owner of Nature's Own Wellness Centers in Durango and Cortez, Colorado. For the two dispensaries, he says, he operates five cultivation facilities and one infusion shop. He's launched Accessible Arizona, a consulting service. But he also wants to open at least one dispensary in the Valley, he says.

Problem is, the proposed rules demand at least three years of Arizona residency for dispensary owners. Although he's licensed as a real estate agent in Arizona and owns a house here, his main residency is in Colorado, which also requires dispensary owners to be residents. Assuming DHS residency rules make the final cut, Pollock would be prohibited from owning a pot store in Arizona. But not from running one. "I'll be in more of a management role" at the planned dispensary, he says.

The next few months will reveal whether these and other pioneers of the Arizona's new pot industry will meet with success or failure in, first, getting licenses and, then, running small businesses.

Ramona Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Phoenix, refuses to say whether the DEA plans to bust people who buy, sell, or trade seeds that could be used to kick off Arizona's medical pot program.

No part of the marijuana law, or any of the rules proposed so far, give direct guidance to entrepreneurs on how to create an initial product to sell to patients.

The pot businesses want to sell ultra-potent, medical-grade marijuana. For that, they need high-quality seeds. Mail order seems like a bust waiting to happen — or is it?

"The DEA is not going to use its federal resources to try to circumvent state law," she says.

Yet Sanchez won't say whether this means the DEA would ignore a tip about a package of potent seeds in the mail to Arizona from pot-centric Amsterdam or Humboldt County, California. Nor would she reveal whether stings of seed-orderers could happen.

"We don't report what investigations the DEA will conduct," she says. "Interstate transport or importation — of course, it's risky. It's an illegal activity."

Sanchez bristles when asked to suggest the least "risky" way to begin a pot-growing operation under the new state law.

"I will not make any recommendations where people can obtain a Control 1 substance," she snaps.

Experts assume dispensaries will get their first seeds from patients who may or may not have obtained their pot legally.

The law allows dispensaries to accept donated marijuana if no price is attached. If a large number of patients or caregivers (people who are approved to buy pot for up to five qualified patients) donate their homegrown stashes to dispensaries, the problem of how to start a cultivation station would be solved, to some extent.

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