Proposed Rules on Medical Marijuana Tougher Than Voter-Approved Law; Estimate of Potential Patients Lowered

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Before the release of draft rules on Proposition 203, Will Humble, the director of the state Department of Health Services, estimated 100,000 people a year might qualify for medical marijuana.

Now, under the proposed regulations, only 10,000 to 20,000 people a year would qualify, he said in a news conference today.

The health department wants to lock out recreational users of marijuana from the coming state system, Humble explained. As mentioned in our previous blog post today, the new rules define what constitutes a doctor-patient relationship more strictly than the law itself.

The proposed rules also aim for "strong inventory controls," forcing dispensaries to grow 70 percent of their product themselves, while just 30 percent can come from legal growing operations run by other dispensaries.

Officials made it clear these proposals were a starting point for discussion, not the final word on regulations. Public hearings and the writing of another draft document will occur before rules are solidified by early April.

Our prediction: Many of these proposed rules won't stand because they restrict the newly approved voter initiative in a way that should be protected by the 1998 Voter Protection Act. It seems to us that the only way the state should be able to tweak the law this severely is by having the State Legislature find the 3/4 majority vote to do so, as the Act requires.

Still, the law did give the DHS the ability to write reasonable regulations. It's too early to tell what will happen -- and that's where you come in. The state wants to hear from you, so be sure to let your voice be heard during the rule-making process whether you want less -- or more -- restrictions on the program.

Humble showed clearly how the process was in flux when one reporter asked if the state would restrict someone from setting up a private business in which qualified patients could legally smoke marijuana.

"Tom," he said to the DHS' rules division manager, Tom Salow, "make sure that doesn't happen."

Humble and other speakers at today's news conference said they didn't obtain any input from would-be dispensary owners, marijuana activists, private doctors or anyone else.

That's a problem, because these people come off like a gaggle of Church Ladies.

At one point in the news conference, Humble took a detour to mention the dangers of prescription drugs, saying that more than 1,000 people died last year in Arizona from overdoses. He was responding to a question about why the state was making it tougher to obtain a recommendation for marijuana from their doctor than it is to obtain a prescription for pain pills.

When we asked Humble to remind the audience how many people died from overdosing on marijuana, he hemmed and hawed. Laura Nelson, chief medical officer for DHS, said she'd "have to do the research on that," and that "marijuana is not as lethal" as some prescription drugs. She also claims that pot is dangerous due to "car accidents."

It's just more Reefer Madness-type propaganda. Marijuana overdoses simply don't happen. And state crash data shows that alcohol-impairment-related crashes occur at a rate 10 times that of crashes in which the driver was impaired by all other illegal drugs combined. The state Department of Transportation can't break down that category of "all other illegal drugs" further, but it's obvious that marijuana-impairment cases are just a fraction of that one-tenth figure.

The voters approved Proposition 203, and now the state wants to smother the new law with over-bearing rules. No question -- there'll be some push-back on these proposed rules.

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