Arizona Medical Marijuana: New Draft Rules Ease Recommendation Requirements, Opens Door for Random Selection of Pot-Shop Applicants

The second round of proposed rules for Arizona's medical marijuana program eases previously suggested restrictions, making it easier for patients to obtain pot.

The newest proposed guidelines from the state Department of Health Services, released this morning, would allow doctors to evaluate a person's physical condition and medical records, then agree to assume "responsibility for the management and routine care" of the person's qualifying medical condition before recommending marijuana. Patients would then submit the recommendation and an application to the state for approval to buy or possess marijuana legally.

This loosens things somewhat from the original proposed rules, which required either a relationship of at least a year -- plus four visits -- to a patient's doctor, or the transfer of all care for the medical condition to a new doctor. This time, the proposed rules don't say the doctor has to assume primary responsibility for care of the patient's ailment.

The new suggestions also call for the random selection of dispensary applicants in some cases.

The DHS had previously existing public health zones drawn across the state, and the new rules would allow only one dispensary per zone. If the agency receives more than one qualified applicant for a particular zone by 60 days after May 1, 2011, the lucky winner will be chosen randomly. If a city or town doesn't want a dispensary in a certain zone, city leaders could "request the reassignment" of the applicant to a different zone.

The state will take public comment through February 18, with public hearings planned February 14-17.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.