Sheila Polk Was Wrong: 16 Medical-Pot Dispensaries Now Open in AZ and Not Being Shut Down by Feds

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk announced in dramatic fashion last July that federal authorities would shut down every medical-marijuana dispensary in Arizona "as it opens."

Polk made the bad prediction in a letter she penned and sent to the governor after getting several other county attorneys to sign it. We checked into her assertion and reported to you at the time that Polk's claim appeared to be nonsense and was, in fact, a major exaggeration of something she'd been told by a retired drug agent.

How wrong was Polk's info?

As of today, there are 16 retail shops legally selling medical marijuana under Arizona law.

See also: Sheila Polk's Letter to Brewer Misstates AZ U.S. Attorney's Position on Medical Marijuana

That's five more than were opened in late March, when we wrote of how the dispensary industry was taking off, finally. The first, Arizona Organix of Glendale, opened in November.

Now, there are legal weed stores for Arizona's roughly 40,000 qualified patients in Glendale, Phoenix, Mesa, Eloy, Wickenburg, Quartzsite, Globe, and many other towns and cities.

An additional 29 other shops are nearing their final inspection process, records from the Arizona Department of Health Services show, meaning those places will likely be open in a matter of weeks.

Another 25 would-be shops have requested dispensary applications but have not yet asked for inspections by DHS, the April 12 records show.

The lottery held last year by DHS granted 99 businesses the right to apply to open a dispensary in pre-planned geographic areas around the state.

Would-be pot-shop operators who won one of those "CHAA" areas in the lottery must request an inspection for their stores by DHS by June 8. Those who fail to do this will not be able to open a dispensary in the foreseeable future, and those "CHAAs" will go dark -- for a while, anyway.

Meanwhile, many "unauthorized" dispensaries, a.k.a. cannabis clubs, seem to be operating without much interference from authorities. Members of the Regulated Dispensaries of Arizona Association, have been urging law enforcement agencies to shut down the clubs, which provide marijuana for patients but aren't overseen by the state DHS. Patients may decide the issue by choosing to shop only at state-authorized dispensaries -- especially if the authorized shops can price their product more competitively.

So, Polk was wrong. Which isn't surprising considering that she exaggerated the quality of her information.

Arizona U.S. Attorney John Leonardo did not shut these legal Arizona dispensaries down as soon as they opened. Apparently, he has no imminent plans to do so.

Whether the feds ultimately do shut down Arizona's burgeoning dispensary industry is still an open question.

For now, with 16 dispensaries and many more on the way, the industry is beginning to bloom.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.