Rules for Medical Marijuana Need More Tweaking, Some Say; Two Public Meetings on Prop 203 Scheduled in Valley This Week

Dr. Ed Suter, a Mesa-based physician, says a physical exam should not be required before a doctor provides someone with a recommendation for medical marijuana.

Andrew Myers, spokesman for the Prop 203 campaign, thinks that hopeful owners of marijuana dispensaries should have to prove they have at least $200,000 in the bank before the state grants them an operating license.

These suggestions and many others will be reviewed by the state Department of Health Services prior to the release of rules guiding the operation of Arizona's medical marijuana system.

Hundreds of people have already sounded off via e-mail or through the news media. This week, the DHS kicked off a week of public meetings across the state to hear even more ideas about the regulations still under development.

Two Phoenix-area meetings -- one Tuesday, the other on Thursday -- will take place at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law's Great Hall, 1100 South McAllister Avenue on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe. Tuesday's meeting starts at 3:30 p.m., while Thursday's begins at 9 a.m. Click here for more info.

Anyone can attend the meetings and express their opinion, though DHS officials will just be listening, not giving a presentation. A disclaimer on the DHS site reminds people that the meetings aren't intended for people who want to open a dispensary.

Myers, now the front man for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, says he'd like to see several revisions in the proposed rules presented so far. He's among the medical pot supporters who want to see robust regulations of the dispensary industry, which he believes are key to preventing a public backlash against the program.

"We're trying to avoid unintended consquences," Myers says of the Association. "I don't really care who the actual applicants who succeed are -- I just want to make sure they're the right kind of applicants."

Verification that dispensary applicants have a minimum chunk of cash in their accounts, say about $200,000, would solve a couple of problems, he says. Only serious professionals would likely apply, and the state could be confident that the would-owner's capital wouldn't come from unknown or even illegal sources, he says.

Under the second draft of rules, dispensary owners could hide their involvement in the operation, Myers says. The proposed rules now allow someone to obtain a dispensary license through the lottery system DHS plans to introduce, then sell the license to someone who hasn't been vetted by the state.

And speaking of the lottery system -- Myers says his group wants to see that eliminated, too, in the final draft of rules. The Association would rather that DHS use a point system to evaluate the quality of each dispensary application, with a "stratifying element," (like the $200,000-minimum) to help make the decision.

DHS Director Will Humble says he prefers the lottery system because it might prevent his agency from being sued by entrepreneurs who don't end up with licenses.

On the patient side of things, the second draft of rules seems to make getting a medical pot card about as tough as finding a prescription for antibiotics. But Dr. Suter, in a written response to DHS and in conversations with New Times, says he finds the proposed system far too strict.

He questions the need for dispensaries to hire a medical director, noting that even pharmacies don't have such a requirement. He also worries that DHS, in trying to define a physician-patient relationship, is flouting the spirit of the voter-approved law:

"We must not allow the Department to require anything, no matter how seemingly innocent, that is not within their authority. Their draft regulations already confirm the Department's propensity to abuse and usurp authority, even to a cruel and capricious degree," he writes.

Click here to read Suter's response in Word format.

Humble and DHS need more suggestions on how to make this system work, so don't sell your own ideas short: If you've got a plan on how best to oversee dispensaries or medical marijuana patients, now's your time to let the community know what you think.

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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.
Contact: Ray Stern