Arizona's Week in Weed: State to Issue 30 New Medical-Marijuana Dispensary Licenses, Program Turns Five

From the tons sold in state-legal medical-marijuana dispensaries, to the tons imported each year from Mexico, Arizona is a place that knows its cannabis. Here's a roundup of some of last week's biggest news stories about marijuana that affect the Grand Canyon State:

Arizona Health Department Says It'll Grant About 30 More Dispensary Licenses

Her agency will accept applications this summer for about 30 new dispensary licenses, Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ announced in a blog post on Wednesday.

DHS has not pegged an exact number, but it should be based on simple math: Voters agreed to allow about 10 percent of the number of pharmacies statewide, which would amount to nearly 130 dispensaries.

Wrote Christ:

"There are 99 licensed medical-marijuana dispensaries, with 92 currently open and operating. Approximately 97 percent of Arizonans are now residing within 25 miles of an operating medical-marijuana dispensary. There are 75 cultivation sites located outside of the operating dispensaries. Some of those dispensaries and cultivation sites include kitchens approved to prepare edible food products."

Obtaining a dispensary license never has looked more potentially lucrative, even though dispensaries are supposed to be nonprofit ventures. If Arizona voters opt in November to legalize recreational marijuana sales and retail stores, it'll further enrich dispensary operators. The measure expected to be on the ballot this year allows existing medical-marijuana dispensaries to get first crack at a total of about 150 to 160 licenses.

The DHS charges $5,000 just to apply for a medical-marijuana license, which tends to keep dilettantes out of the process. But the DHS might face a flood of would-be pot-shop owners. Back in 2012, when the state offered fewer than 100 licenses, more than 200 applicants filed paperwork. Officials used a lottery-ball machine to select licensees.

There's no word yet as to whether the new selection process would be similar.

Arizona Medical-Marijuana Program Turns 5 Years Old

Christ's blog post contained an interesting factoid: It has been slightly more than five years since the first Arizona patient received a medical-marijuana card. If you need a cause to celebrate, that's a good one.

Nearly 100,000 Arizonans Can Now Possess Marijuana Legally

On Friday, the DHS finally updated its medical-marijuana program numbers, adding reports for both February and March. The most recent report shows that there are 94,461 patients as of March, and 97,239 total people qualified to handle weed, a figure that includes patients, caregivers, and dispensary agents.
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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.