Arizona Could Have Pot Dispensaries by Summer, Official Said

Arizona is not appealing a court ruling on medical marijuana and there could be licensed dispensaries established around the state as soon as this summer, Health Services Director Will Humble announced Tuesday.

The state is going to revise its dispensary rules to delete provisions struck down by a court ruling that said the state had to proceed with allowing establishment of dispensaries, Humble said in an interview.

Dispensaries are businesses that would sell medical marijuana to people who hold cards issued by the state under its voter-approved law.

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Humble said the decision to not appeal the ruling removes the last legal obstacle to full implementation of the state's medical marijuana law, though he acknowledged there's still a cloud over the state law because marijuana remains illegal under federal drug laws.

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Gov. Jan Brewer last year balked at allowing dispensaries, saying she feared state employees could face federal criminal prosecution.

However, Judge Richard Gama of Maricopa County Superior Court ruled Thursday that the state had no discretion on implementation of the dispensary portion of the medical marijuana law approved by Arizona voters in 2010.

The state previously implemented other parts of the law, allowing thousands of people to obtain qualified patient cards. Versions of those cards allow people to possess medical marijuana and to grow their own marijuana. Once a dispensary is established, people in that area no longer can grow their own.

Even before Gama ruled on a lawsuit filed by would-be dispensary operators, Brewer had directed state health officials to begin preparations for implementing the dispensary part of the law pending resolution of the court case.

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Gama's ruling came after a federal judge on Jan. 4 dismissed a separate lawsuit in which Brewer asked for a ruling on whether the state's medical marijuana law conflicted with federal law and could be implemented.

With the two court rulings, "it was time to implement," Humble said of the decision announced Tuesday. "There's really nothing holding it up now."

However, with local zoning restrictions, the possibility of federal prosecution and the improving economy making landlords more selective about tenants, it could be difficult for some dispensary operators to find suitable locations, Humble said.

The Arizona law legalizes medical marijuana use for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. It was approved by voters by just 4,341 votes out of more than 1.67 million votes counted.

Humble said his agency believes it can have rules done in time to start accepting dispensary applications in April and start awarding licenses by mid-June. That means dispensaries could open in the summer "if someone was really ready to execute," he said.

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Licenses will likely be awarded through a random lottery, though there would be some advantage provided for operators with at least $150,000 of startup capital, he said.

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