A Glendale medical-marijuana dispensary will be inspected by state officials on Thursday, and is poised to be the first such establishment to open in Arizona.
If all goes well with the inspection process, which could take two or three inspectors up to six hours, the dispensary could open as soon as Friday.
A looming question is whether Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will try to prevent the dispensary from selling marijuana to some of Arizona's 33,601 qualified patients.
The Republican sheriff may feel compelled to try and stop the pot sales, given the staunch prohibitionist stance of his political ally, County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Despite the fact that voters approved the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which makes it legal -- among other things -- for patients to grow marijuana and dispensaries to sell it, Montgomery claims anyone doing those things can still be prosecuted. Montgomery supports the federal government over state law on this issue even though he's on the losing side of history, judging by the revolutionary votes to legalize marijuana this month in Colorado and Washington.
Montgomery and state Attorney General Tom Horne are contesting the right of a company to open a dispensary in Sun City. That dispensary, the White Mountain Health Center, has sued the county in order to force it to provide the zoning information required by state dispensary rules.
Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon has yet to rule on a motion in that case filed by Montgomery and Horne. The right-wing prosecutors seek a ban on the sales and cultivation of medical marijuana.
The Glendale dispensary will evidently have a chance to open before the judge makes his ruling.
And that will put Montgomery and his enforcer, Arpaio, on the spot.
Now that Arpaio's safely into his sixth term he doesn't have to worry about antagonizing the voters who approved the medical-marijuana law, a healthy portion of which were his own supporters. Arpaio, with Montgomery's urging (and perhaps even encouraged by Horne and Governor Jan Brewer) might try to make a move on this Glendale dispensary before it sells its first bud.
The dispensary hasn't been named by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which is legally required to keep that information secret. However, it seems likely the dispensary company will make some sort of public announcement to the news media -- also known as free advertising.
Will Humble, director of the state DHS, says the Glendale dispensary made one of four requests for an inspection that has been received by the agency, and one of only two dispensaries for which inspections are scheduled.
A Tucson dispensary will be inspected on Tuesday, Humble says. The other two dispensaries that have requested inspections, both in Tucson, will need to correct deficiencies in their paperwork before the state will schedule inspections.
"I don't want to waste my staff's time," Humble says.
To sell pot in Arizona, dispensary operators will need more than a cell phone and a scale. A nine-page pre-inspection checklist can be found on the DHS web site. The inspection will ensure the dispensary has proper inventory-control processes, plans for documenting the transportation of marijuana, proper security and more.
Harmony Duport, the agency's chief of inspection and compliance, will make the final call on whether an inspected dispensary can open or not, Humble says.
The agency has categorized inspection requirements into critical and non-critical violations. Duport won't allow a dispensary to open if it has critical violations, such as no detailed system to track the inventory, but she might allow a dispensary to open with one or more non-critical violations that can be addressed later, such as the lack of a hand-washing sink.
If the inspectors at the Glendale dispensary report back to Duport on Thursday afternoon that everything looked good, she would likely authorize the dispensary to open immediately.
For the first time since the medical-pot law was approved in November of 2010, patients would be able to buy their medicine from a state-authorized pot store.
Unless Arpaio puts on a "Joe Show" for his right-wing followers.
We know this is probably too much to hope for, but wouldn't it be neat if Arpaio tells his deputies to shut down the dispensary -- and state troopers, who might be interested in enforcing state law, try to stop the deputies? How the Taser darts might fly!
Okay, back to reality. Let's assume instead that the dispensary opens and begins selling to patients with no more hold-ups. What could patients buy?
At first, the store will likely be stocked with numerous strains of indica and sativa from which to choose. They may even have smokable hashish or the powdered concentrate called kief.
Qualified patients can possess up to 2.5 ounces at any given time; that's also the maximum amount they could buy from a dispensary, which will track the purchase to make sure the patients aren't going over the statutory limit. For marijuana concentrates, the limit is decided by how much pot went into the making of the concentrated form. For instance, patients could buy only as much hashish at one time as can be made from 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
Edible marijuana products won't likely be sold immediately by the dispensaries, Humble says. Those items are considered food, and the state has a separate list of protocols that must be followed for food sales. The state DHS will inspect those food-making facilities in most cases, Humble says.
The opening of a dispensary will also trigger part of the state law that prohibits patients or caregivers from growing marijuana within a 25-mile radius of the store. A 25-mile radius around Glendale covers pretty much the whole Valley.
Most of the state's patients are currently authorized to grow pot, since no dispensaries are yet open. Those within the 25-mile radius of a dispensary will be notified by letter or e-mail of the dispensary's opening. They'll still be able to grow marijuana under state law until their cards come up from renewal, Humble says.
If the Glendale dispensary opens on Friday, then no new or renewing patients who live within 25 miles of the store will be allowed to grow marijuana.
Unless Judge Gordon puts the kibosh on the dispensary program, the opening of a couple of these stores could spur dozens of others to do the same. Ninety-seven applicants were selected at random by the state back in August, but they've been hesitant to move forward with a store because of the disrespect that Arizona's Republican leaders have shown to the state law.
Of the 97, about 40 or 50 of the would-be dispensary companies have sent the state "agent cards" with the fingerprints and FBI clearance reports for the owners and employees. Those companies are allowed to build out their store locations, but can't open until they've requested -- and passed -- a state inspection.
The several-dozen companies which haven't submitted their agent cards ought to consider getting their butts off the couch. Humble warns that, under state rules, any would-be dispensary picked in the random lottery that isn't up and running by August 7, 2013, will be permanently banned from applying again.
Check back for an update tomorrow.