Stringent medical marijuana rules proposed in AZ

Preliminary rules for would-be users and prescribers of medical marijuana in Arizona are so stringent that no more than 20,000 people likely will qualify for the drug — a sharp decrease from earlier estimate of 100,000 in the first year alone, a regulator said Friday.

The revised estimate was made after Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble looked at rules and numbers of users in 14 other states that allow medical marijuana.

"We figured hey, if we put some true checks and balances in this system, we can actually make this a medical marijuana program and not a recreational marijuana program," Humble said at a news conference.

He noted that patients in California can get pot recommendations from a doctor for a headache, while hundreds of dispensaries in Colorado opened without any state regulations.

Arizona's medical marijuana measure passed in November by just 4,341 votes after 1.67 million ballots were counted, making the state the 15th in the nation to approve a medical marijuana law.

Arizona's ballot measure will allow patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and any other chronic or debilitating disease that meet guidelines to buy 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks or grow a limited number of plants themselves if they live 25 miles from a dispensary.

The preliminary rules posted on the health services department website said a patient must get a marijuana recommendation from an Arizona doctor who has been treating the person for a year, or has taken primary responsibility for their care after compiling a medical history, conducting a comprehensive exam and reviewing medical records.

Patients also must provide a copy of a valid identification card, proof of U.S. citizenship or naturalization and detailed doctor information. They must pay an application fee of $150, and a yearly renewal fee of the same amount.

Doctors, meanwhile, must initial statements saying they reviewed all the medication being taken by the patient for potential interactions with marijuana, In addition, physicians must initial a statement saying he or she will continually assess the patient and their need for medical marijuana, and that their patient is likely to benefit from using the drug.

Humble believes the rules won't stop those who truly need medical marijuana from getting it. A newly diagnosed cancer patient, for example, could go to their oncologist and get a recommendation immediately, he said.

"For that guy in his 30s without any qualifying medical condition who is going to expect to be able to walk into a physician and get a quick recommendation by saying his shoulder's been sore — those are people that we expect to have a bigger challenge in actually getting a qualified patient card," Humble said.

Regarding pot shops, the preliminary rules say applicants must pay an application fee of $5,000.

Dispensary board members can't be police officers or a doctor making pot recommendations and can't have unpaid taxes or child support or be in default of a government-issued student loan.

The principal officer or board member of a dispensary must be an Arizona resident of at least two years