On Thursday, April 14, the Arizona Department of Health Services will begin accepting applications for medical marijuana patient and caregiver cards. The ADHS will review and approve or deny each application within 10 business days.
So, in just a couple of weeks, some Arizonans will be able to legally possess and use pot, provided they stay within ADHS guidelines. The department won't begin accepting dispensary applications until June, so all patients issued cards before a dispensary opens within 25 miles of their home can grow their own weed, if they indicate on their applications that they want to cultivate.
Get a card, and you can buy, possess, and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks — or grow up to 12 plants. Follow the law, and cops can't arrest you, landlords can't discriminate against you, and employers can't penalize you (unless you're high on the job).
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To get a card, you must:
First, receive written certification (on a form provided at the ADHS website) from a licensed Arizona physician stating you have one of the debilitating conditions listed in the program (which include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, and "severe and chronic pain").
Second, submit an application at the ADHS website, along with residence, postal and e-mail addresses, a copy of your Arizona driver's license or identification card, proof of U.S. citizenship, a photograph, your certified physician's statement, and a signed statement that you won't pass along your pot to anyone who's not allowed to have it.
If your own doctor won't write a medical marijuana certification, you can obtain certification from another physician, provided the physician is licensed to practice in Arizona and provides a written statement to ADHS confirming your debilitating condition and stating you've established a physician-patient relationship.
To cultivate your own cannabis, check the box on the application indicating it, and state that you don't live within 25 miles of a dispensary. All patient card applicants need to pay a non-refundable application fee of $150 ($75 for people who show proof of participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a.k.a. food stamps).
People seeking cards as designated caregivers for qualifying patients (which would allow them to purchase and possess medical marijuana on behalf of a patient) must submit all the same information, but also undergo a criminal records check (convicted felons aren't eligible), and submit a set of fingerprints. The application fee for caregivers is $200. Each qualifying patient may have only one caregiver.
Everything must be submitted online through the ADHS website, using electronic copies in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Once you submit your application, ADHS will approve or deny it within 10 business days. Cards are valid for one year; renewal fees are the same as initial application fees.
Once someone has a patient or caregiver card from ADHS, they may legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable medical marijuana, and may purchase their pot from any licensed dispensary in the state. Such edibles as marijuana brownies and cookies will count toward the legal limit, but only the weight of the usable marijuana in the edible will be counted. Dispensaries will be linked to a central database that records all purchases, and each patient or caregiver won't be able to buy more than 2.5 ounces total every two weeks.
If a patient or caregiver transfers medical marijuana to anyone who doesn't have a valid registry card — or if they're in possession of more than 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana — they will be breaking the law. Patients authorized to cultivate cannabis could still buy marijuana from a dispensary but would have to stay within the legal limits of possession.
Only patients with medical marijuana cards issued by ADHS can buy weed at dispensaries in Arizona; however, patients with valid cards from other states can legally possess marijuana here. As of March, more than 10 possession cases have been dismissed in Mohave County, because all the defendants proved they could legally use medical marijuana in their home states (usually California). Sergeant Steve Carbajal of the Tempe Police Department and Sergeant Mark Clark of Scottsdale PD both told New Times that officers expect to handle possession cases by out-of-state visitors on a case-by-case basis. Carbajal says officers have received information on the reciprocity function of Arizona's medical marijuana law.
Card-carrying patients in Arizona can rest easy knowing that if they get pulled over with less than 2.5 ounces of weed in their cars, they're not going to be arrested. However, it's still illegal to drive while high, and though the presence of marijuana in someone's system isn't proof of impairment (it stays in the user's system long after ingestion), police can still use the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. This is the field test in which an officer takes a pen and asks the driver to follow it with his or her eyes. If the driver's eyes involuntarily jerk (nystagmus), cannot follow the trajectory of the pen at different angles, and have pupils of unequal size, an officer could consider this "probable cause" for impairment. However, many DUI attorneys say the HGN test is flawed, and drivers can refuse to submit.
Also still illegal: using or being under the influence of marijuana at work, and blazing up in public places (including parks, schools, bars, and clubs). Patients won't be able to consume medical marijuana at dispensaries, either.
When local dispensaries begin to open this summer or fall, patients can purchase a variety of marijuana buds, tinctures, and edibles. But ADHS won't start accepting dispensary applications until June 1, about a month after they start sending out patient and caregiver cards — which are valid immediately.
People with medical marijuana patient or caregiver cards from ADHS will be legally protected before dispensaries open, so possessing less than 2.5 ounces of pot will be perfectly legal for them, even if the source is dubious. But many patients, particularly those who aren't comfortable buying marijuana from a street dealer, may choose another option: legally growing their own.
The law says any medical marijuana card holder who does not live within 25 miles of a dispensary may cultivate up to 12 plants. And since nobody will have a dispensary within 25 miles of their home until sometime after June, every qualified patient has an opportunity to start growing now. In its online FAQ sheet for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Program, ADHS states, "Since no dispensaries will be operating when the first qualifying patients obtain a registry identification card, all qualifying patients will be approved to cultivate if they request approval to cultivate."
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So the first wave of registered Arizona medical marijuana patients can plant pot seeds the moment they get their cards. But they can't just plant them in the open in their backyards — plants must be grown in an enclosed, locked facility (like a closet or greenhouse). But marijuana plants can take anywhere from two to six months to mature, so by the time a patient's buds are ready to harvest, a medical marijuana dispensary may have opened within 25 miles of their grow.
But fret not — patient cards are valid one year from the date of issue, and the Arizona Department of Health Services has no enforcement mechanism in place to notify law enforcement that a patient may be out compliance. So theoretically, patients won't have to worry about their plants until they apply for renewal of their registry cards.
When that happens next year, ADHS will check its database to determine whether any dispensaries are operating within 25 miles of the cardholder and send the cardholder a list of dispensaries, along with a renewal card that states he or she is not authorized to cultivate cannabis anymore.
But for 12 months, the door's open for registered cardholders to go and grow in peace. Arizona's getting greener, after all.