Print Bartosh: Licensed marijuana dispensary better than home-growers
Written by Greg Ruland   
Thursday, 16 December 2010 00:00

Establishing a local marijuana dispensary to prevent home-grown pot outlets from springing up around the Verde Valley was just one of several suggestions voiced at a meeting of the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition on Dec. 8.

Because Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, allows people to grow pot in their homes when the nearest licensed dispensary is more than 25 miles away, establishing a licensed dispensary locally would push home-grown pot operations to residences situated outside the Verde Valley, Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh said.

Camp Verde Town Manager Russ Martin, center, brainstorms ideas for issues surrounding the recently passed medical marijuana initiative with Lt. Earl Huff of the Camp Verde Marshal’s Office, left, and Mike Jenkins, Camp Verde Community Development Director, during a meeting of MATForce members and community leaders from across the Verde Valley and Prescott at the Cottonwood Public Safety Building on Dec. 8. MATForce is trying to have a voice in how medical marijuana issues are handled within Yavapai County.A locally licensed dispensary would also centralize legal pot cultivation in a single location that could be monitored and routinely inspected by law enforcement, planning and zoning and health department officials, depending on how far Verde Valley cities and towns decide to go in regulating the budding industry.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has until Monday, March 28, to publish rules that will regulate medical marijuana. The coalition seeks to influence the rule-making so problems encountered in California and Colorado don’t arise in Arizona, coalition Program Director Merilee Fowler said.

An initial draft of the rules is set to be released Friday, Dec. 17, according to the department’s official website.

Roughly 30 people attended the meeting at Cottonwood Public Safety Building, including city and town managers from Cottonwood, Camp Verde and Sedona, lawyers from the Yavapai County attorney’s and adult probation offices, a member of the Clarkdale Town Council, police, firefighters and several health care professionals.

Making sure marijuana ends up in the hands of qualified patients and not abusers was the group’s chief concern, Fowler said.

“We’re not trying to thwart the law, we’re trying to make sure it is implemented responsibly,” Fowler said.

Requiring growers of medical marijuana to comply with zoning or building and safety ordinances, submit to routine inspections, or pay fees, fines and penalties beyond what the initiative requires were among the ideas discussed.

Assistant Yavapai County Attorney Jack Fields said the state health department could consider delegating authority to inspect dispensaries and home-grow operations to local law enforcement. Currently, the law gives that responsibility to the health department.

“I want absolute integrity from the doctors who certify patients for medical marijuana,” said Shawna Bowen, a therapist who formerly worked with Yavapai County Juvenile Probation to counsel young offenders with drug addictions.

“I don’t want to see psychiatrists writing prescriptions for patients with stress,” Bowen said.

The law allows medical doctors, osteopaths, naturopaths and homeopaths to certify patients with terminal illness or any chronic or debilitating condition that causes severe pain.

Clay Hildahl, an adult probation supervisor for Yavapai County, said the new rules should spell out exactly what “chronic pain” means to be sure health care professionals aren’t inadvertently certifying drug abusers.

Ivan Anderson, a Verde Valley Fire District paramedic, suggested the rules require periodic inspections of grow operations on a 60 to 90-day schedule and require cardholders entitled to receive marijuana to be recertified at least annually.

The coalition plans a similar brainstorming session in Prescott on Wednesday, Dec. 15.

After that, coalition leaders will prioritize the suggestions and assign members to task forces assigned to lobby appropriate governmental entities for the rules or ordinances they consider most important, Fowler said.