Medical Marijuana Clubs Open As Arizona Law Is Debated

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Photo: Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Mike Miller of the Arizona Compassion Association presides over the counter at The 2811 Club.

​Medical marijuana dispensaries aren’t yet allowed to open in Arizona, pending a judge’s ruling on Proposition 203, the ballot initiative approved by voters last November. But that’s not keeping some patients from finding cannabis.

At least a few clubs providing patients with medical marijuana have opened to fill that need, reports Emily Holden at The Arizona Republic.
The new state law allows medical marijuana cardholders to grow their own cannabis and to share it with each other, as long as there are no dispensaries within 25 miles. Since no dispensaries are yet allowed, all patients are currently eligible to grow. These clubs have developed as go-between.
The new law was meant to create a regulated industry of dispensaries, said Joe Yuhas, spokesman for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Association, which led the campaign for Prop 203. Instead, the pot clubs are an unintended consequence of the dispute between state and federal laws regarding pot.
“We’re going to see more and more developments like this,” Yuhas said.


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Photo: Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

​Two questions have arisen about the legality of the marijuana clubs: Payment for the product and local zoning.
The state Department of Health Services has clucked that it has “serious concerns about the legality of so-called cannabis clubs.” (Gotta watch ’em whenever they say anything is “so-called.”) Health officials have asked the state Attorney General’s Office if the clubs are legal.
Club owners say they are operating legally.
Arizona had been expected to issue up to 126 dispensary permits next month, but U.S. Attorney David Burke, following the lead of other federal prosecutors, warned prospective cultivators and dispensary operators that they could be prosecuted under federal drug-trafficking laws.
In response to the Burke’s threatening letter, Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit in late May asking a federal judge to determine whether compliance with the law would leave state employees, dispensary operators and patients vulnerable to federal prosecution.

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Photo: Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Allan Sobol, founder of The 2811 Club, talks with a security guard outside the shop in a Phoenix strip mall.

​The Arizona Department of Health Services then froze its dispensary-licensing process.
Meanwhile, the state has licensed 5,697 medical marijuana patients with cards to grow their own. The department of health has also approved 270 caregivers to grow marijuana for patients.
Under Arizona’s medical marijuana law, patients can grow up to 12 plants of their own. Patients and caregivers can share it with other cardholders “if nothing of value is transferred in return.”
Patients can pay caregivers for costs and materials to grow pot, but not for their work.
Caregivers can grow up to 72 plants total, 12 each for themselves and five others.
At least seven clubs are advertising and operating openly, with others operating below the radar and recruiting patients by word of mouth.
There is no set payment arrangement for the various clubs. One, the The 2811 Club, in Phoenix, charges members an initial application fee of $25 and a $75 entry fee each visit to attend classes and get a “free sample.”
The club offers marijuana through the Arizona Compassion Association, a cooperative of patients and caregivers that has a display in The 2811 Club. According to founder Al Sobol, the club makes donations to its growers to help defray their expenses.
Sobol said as long as patients aren’t directly paying for pot, the 2811 Club and the Arizona Compassion Association are not operating as dispensaries.
“We don’t sell marijuana here,” Sobol said, although he said hundreds of people have visited.
Phoenix police said it’s still too early to determine whether the clubs are operating legally.
No arrests have been made relating to the medical marijuana clubs, according to Sgt. Steve Martos, a Phoenix police spokesman.
“We are looking into whether or not they are covered by the new law,” Martos said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona recently repeated its position on medical marijuana: Nobody is safe from prosecution, according to spokesman Robbie Sherwood.
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