Arizona veterans and people 65 and older would get a big break from the state on the cost of a medical-marijuana card in 2015 under proposed rule changes.
Since 2010's historic vote granting Arizonans the freedom to use medical marijuana legally, the fee for obtaining a registration card has been $150, with a break only for those on food stamps.
New, proposed rules announced Thursday by Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, would give a generous $75 discount to seniors, former military service-people, and recipients of federal Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.
About 18 percent of women cardholders and 16 percent men are more than 60, according to stats released last month by the state DHS. (That's a noteworthy difference in use by gender from the overall 70-30 split of men to women in cardholders seen here in Arizona and other states with medical-pot laws. The stats show that older women are registered for the program at a slightly higher rate than men their age. The statistical effect increases with age so that by the 81-and-over category, the actual number of women cardholders, 118, finally surpasses that of men, 97.).
Other changes the DHS is contemplating include:
* Helping the agency track patients who didn't see a doctor in the year before they received their registration card. Humble's not sure what the DHS will do with the information yet, but he's long insisted on trying to keep the program a medical one, as voters intended.
* Codifying the "25-mile rule" to mean by roads, not "as the crow flies." State law prohibits cardholders from growing their own marijuana if an operating dispensary exists within 25 miles. Apparently, some caregivers or cardholders are interested in throwing seeds down in the margins.
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* Limiting donations of marijuana to dispensaries by caregivers and cardholders with cultivation privileges to 2.5 ounces every two weeks. This might cut down on any potentially unlawful side-deals going on between amateur growers and dispensaries.
* Clarifying that for deliveries of medical marijuana, the endpoint of the delivery cannot be at a public place, and it must be specified by the patient or caregiver receiving the delivery. Dispensaries are allowed to operate in only one state-authorized location. With this rule, a dispensary representative wouldn't be able to "deliver" marijuana to a spot in some other dispensary's territory and have patients come to him.
Humble and his team at the DHS began a review of the rules they rolled out in 2011 after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge found them too harsh, in places. In particular, Judge Randall Warner said the rules presented an "undue burden" on businesses by denying them a chance to renew their yearly license if they hadn't received a state operating certificate in time. The deadline had been one year after an August 7, 2012 lottery for approved dispensary locations, but many dispensaries were unable to meet all of their challenges by then, such as obtaining municipal zoning approvals.
The DHS took the opportunity to change not just that rule, but to review all of the rules. The proposed changes appear to streamline the program, not hamper it. But Humble's looking for your opinion through an online survey.
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Following a formal rule-making process, the new rules could be in place by early 2015.
Follow Ray Stern on Twitter: @RayStern