Dispensaries in AZ this Summer?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
Right now, it looks like a qualified “yes”.  As you know from earlier blog posts a the judge has ruled in a state case that had challenged our dispensary applicant selection criteria.  We’ve been reviewing our options- and decided yesterday not to appeal  the case- which puts us back on track to licensing dispensaries under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Our teams are busy dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s right now on an express rule package that would remove the dispensary selection criteria that was struck down last week (AZ residency, child support, previous bankruptcies etc.) and to set new dates to accept dispensary applications.  Our goal is to accept applications this April.  We’d then have 45 days to review and award dispensary licenses- so we could potentially have awarded up to 125 dispensary licenses by mid-June. If someone is pretty much ready to go at that point, we could see medical marijuana dispensaries operating in July or August. It’s been awhile since we talked about dispensaries and the certificate process.  The place to start your refresher course is by reading our 53 Frequently Asked Questions summary sheet and our dispensary webpage.  In the meantime, there are several things that won’t change and are still outlined in rule.  Folks will need to have a business plan, security information, staff information, medical director and a plan to distribute information to patients, plus a letter from the locality saying the address is in compliance with local zoning rules. So while we’re busy tying up loose ends with the rules and the FAQs, I imagine prospective dispensary owners will be busy too. One of the key provisions we settled on was to use zones to spread the dispensaries throughout the state.  There were a few reasons for this – one to keep them from clustering in urban areas, another was to make sure that qualifying patients in the more rural areas of the state had access to a dispensary.  Since we started issuing cards to qualifying patients and designated caregivers, we’ve been mapping where they live by zone.  That information is available in a monthly report on our website.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Application Process to Proceed

Friday, January 13th, 2012
Last May (after receiving a threatening letter from the Arizona U.S Attorney’s Office) the Governor suspended the dispensary portion of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act with a genuine concern that state employees would be federally prosecuted.  Last year, we asked the federal court to provide us with guidance regarding the obvious conflicts between the Arizona law and the federal Controlled Substances Act.  The federal court’s refusal to address the issue on the merits left many unanswered questions regarding these conflicts.  It’s unfortunate that the Federal court and the Arizona U.S Attorney’s Office couldn’t provide clarity for us on this issue.  However, after careful consideration, the Governor has asked us to implement the dispensary portion of the AZ Medical Marijuana Act. Our first step will be to review the rules for accepting dispensary applications.  Our rules had originally stated that we’d accept dispensary applications last June.  Obviously, that’s no longer possible- so we’ll need to set new application dates using the State’s rulemaking process.  We’re working on those rules right now. The process is complicated by the fact that a lawsuit called Compassion v. Arizona is challenging the scope and constitutionality of our medical marijuana rules.  If that lawsuit is withdrawn or settled quickly, we could begin accepting dispensary applications this Summer.

AZ Physicians Referred to Licensing Boards due to Questionable Medical Marijuana Certifications

Friday, August 19th, 2011
One of the criteria on our official medical marijuana Physician Certification Form includes an attestation by a physician that they’ve reviewed their patient’s profile on the Arizona Board of Pharmacy’s Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program database before signing the certification.  We included this requirement to ensure that physicians are acting in their patient’s best interest- and making sure that they’re using best practices and checking to see whether their patient has been prescribed other controlled substances before signing the marijuana certification.  Another requirement that we included asks physicians to attest that they’ve reviewed the patient’s medical history including examining the last 12 months of the patient’s medical records before signing.  We also think these requirements are important because other states that have medical marijuana programs have found that some physicians are more focused on getting revenue from signing certifications than on their patient’s health. As a routine quality check in our certification system, we’ve been asking the Board of Pharmacy to verify whether or not certifying physicians are actually accessing the system (as they have attested).  We’ve identified 3 MDs and 5 Naturopaths that have been routinely attesting that they’ve checked the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program when they appear to have not checked that regularly.  Dr. Nelson and I sent letters to their licensing boards recently notifying them that it looks like these 8 physicians may be falsely attesting that they’re checking the Prescription Monitoring Program database.  In each case, they appear to have written more than 100 certifications (some several hundred) that included attestations that cannot be verified by the Board of Pharmacy. Our larger concern is that if these physicians aren’t completing this simple requirement (and making false attestations)- it’s likely that they’re taking other short-cuts that may be jeopardizing their patient’s health- such as not reviewing the patient’s medical history before writing medical marijuana certifications (also required in the series of attestations).  Since these 8 physicians have signed nearly half of the 10,000 medical marijuana medical certifications, we think it’s important that the boards know about this so they can decide if the physician is acting in the patient’s best interest.  The referrals may also have a side effect of discouraging physicians from writing recreational certifications.

New Medical Marijuana Memo from Justice

Monday, July 11th, 2011
The U.S. Department issued new guidance for federal prosecutors last week.  We had been anticipating a new memo from Justice for some time- hoping that it would clarify whether the dispensary portions of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act are legal under federal law (the Controlled Substances Act).  We were also hoping it would help us figure out how risky it would be for us to issue dispensary applications.  Unfortunately, the new guidance didn’t help much. The guidance makes it clear that folks that facilitate large scale cultivation are at risk for prosecution. People that “facilitate” cultivation are also at risk for prosecution.  But, a key remaining question is what the word “facilitation” means.  Could it mean that issuing state approved licenses for cultivation and dispensing would put us at risk for prosecution?  We’re hoping that the upcoming Declaratory Judgment will answer this question (and others) once and for all.  You can check out the new memo from Justice on our website.