Medical marijuana dispensaries will be coming to Arizona. One day. Currently though medical marijuana dispensaries are a no go in Arizona, pending the long awaited declaratory judgment. The hold up is due to concerns regarding the implication of the new medical marijuana law for state and local employees. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery explains, “We’re seeking to intervene at this point because while the state’s lawsuit adequately represents state interests in seeking a declaratory judgment, there are additional interests and concerns we have at the county level that we feel are best represented by a county attorney presenting information to the district court.”
The delay hasn’t stopped Arizona’s new marijuana card holders from finding their marijuana though. The Arizona Republic reports that at least a handful of weed clubs have opened up in the valley to fill the need.
The new state laws allow card-holders to cultivate their own weed and, in the absence of a dispensary within 25 miles, they are also allowed to share it with one another. The newly set-up clubs function as an ‘introductory agency’ for growing cardholders.
Instead of a regulated industry, the delay and confusion surrounding Proposition 203 has led to a proliferation of pot clubs, which may be on the very boundaries of legality – there are questions to be answered concerning payment for weed and local zoning. In fact, the state Department of Health has asked the Attorney General’s Office to rule on the legality, or otherwise, of these clubs.
Maricopa County Attorney, Bill Montgomery, said that although the clubs are an ‘untested area’ he will prosecute anybody trying to operate outside of the law. The club owners, however, insist they are operation legally.
Marijuana Open Season
It was originally envisaged that by next month (August) there would be 126 dispensaries authorized within the Medical Marijuana Act. And, of course, there are exactly… none.
Despite the mired dispensary process, there have been 5,697 medical marijuana cards issued to patients and 270 caregivers have also been approved. So that’s 5,697 people living in the state of Arizona waiting for the dispensaries.
The new law states that each medical marijuana patient can grow up to 12 plants (providing there isn’t a dispensary closer than 25 miles, which there patently isn’t). The law also states that patients and caregivers can share their bud with other cardholders, just so long as “nothing of value is transferred in return.” Although patients can pay caregivers for the costs and materials they use to grow pot.
Caregivers are allowed to grow up to 72 plants – that 12 for themselves plus 12 plants for another 5 patients. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that in a gesture of mutual support, some caregivers have given their excess weed to the new clubs. As the clubs aren’t regulated it’s difficult to say how many there are but at least seven advertise their service and operate quite overtly. That isn’t to say that there aren’t more clubs around, they just happen to be a bit more secretive.
One of the more overt clubs is the 2811 club in Bell Road, Phoenix; club founder Al Sobol has put a lot of effort into promoting his club and, he says, hundreds of people have visited. Although smoking is not allowed in the club, there are plenty of weed-associated activities taking place.
On a Saturday morning in the 2811 club members gather together to learn about different marijuana strains while, in another room, an instructor shows other club members how to make a pot-rich Italian salad dressing. And, at the counter, a volunteer distributes 3-gram samples of weed to cardholders.
Everything is done ‘properly;’ cards are scanned and identities are verified, and an armed security guard stands in plain view. The majority of members are in their 50s or older and they consult with volunteers about the best remedies for a whole variety of ailments, including insomnia and chronic pain.
For some members the major attraction is spending time with people who understand their health problems and the constraints those problems place on a ‘normal’ life. One such member, Mike Miller, is a diabetic amputee who has been on painkillers and other medications since he lost his leg five years ago. Until the 2811 club set up shop Miller hadn’t left his home for nigh on five years. His card and the 2811 Club has been a live-saver for him.
None of the clubs has a set payment schedule. The 2811 club charges an initial application fee of $25 and thereafter there is a $75 entry charge to be paid at each visit. This $75 covers the cost of attending classes and obtaining a free sample.
Weed is offered through the Arizona Compassion Association; a cooperative of patients’ and Sobol reports that the Club makes a donation towards the expenses of growing the marijuana.
To the layman this all seems to be within the law: patients aren’t paying for their pot so neither the Club nor the Arizona Compassion Association are acting as dispensaries. Other clubs within the area have broadly the same arrangements and owners are convinced they are working within the law because they can say quite honestly that they are not selling marijuana to patients.
As you would imagine, state and local authorities don’t see things quite as clearly as this and are trying to determine whether the arrangement constitutes “transferring something of value.”
Montgomery, who is expecting some cases about this clubs to come in front of him very soon, says, “It sounds to me like someone is asking for something of value in order to participate. The closer you get to asking someone to provide money to receive marijuana sounds like a salient violation of the statute.”
A local attorney who represents the as yet only potential dispensary owners says he would advise clients against opening clubs because he thinks it’s, “very, very risky.”
Enforcing Arizona Marijuana Law
There is so much ambiguity surrounding the new law that Phoenix police haven’t yet decided whether the clubs are legal operations or not. So far no arrests have been made, although Gilbert police have arrested several cardholders for possession.
It might be pertinent to listen to Robbie Sherwood from the US Attorney’s Office for Arizona though, when he says, Nobody is safe from prosecution.”