By Julie Wiessner
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) is experiencing some unforeseen problems as it battles lawsuits regarding timeframes for the opening of some medical marijuana dispensaries.
So far, 13 lawsuits have been filed against ADHS by potential dispensary operators as they have not been able to meet a one-year deadline required by ADHS for getting a dispensary up and running.
According to ADHS Director Will Humble, the most recent lawsuit contends that legal issues arising in response to the White Mountain Health Center, Inc., a potential dispensary in Sun City, have made it unreasonably difficult for the plaintiffs to get their dispensary open.
According to a complaint filed in Maricopa County on May 2, 2011, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis K. Burke stated that his office “will continue to vigorously prosecute individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing, distribution and marketing activities involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law.”
According to one of the lawsuits, the reason for delays for some dispensaries opening is that they are waiting to find out if prosecution would follow by the federal government should they open.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery refused to issue documentation showing the proposed White Mountain Health Center location would comply with local zoning ordinances and claimed the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) pre-empts the state’s medical marijuana law passed by voters in 2010.
However, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon disagreed and found that the state law did not undermine the CSA’s purposes.
The plaintiffs in each of these lawsuits seek to delay the June 7 deadline required by ADHS with a temporary restraining order. If these dispensaries are not able to begin operation by the required deadline, they will be barred from future participation in the program. This means those who filed the appropriate paperwork in the beginning would not be able to open another dispensary again, nor will their officers or directors be allowed to open another facility.
According to Humble, there are already 20 or so dispensaries up and running across the state, and another dozen or so have already filed their requests for an approval to operate.
The dispensaries that have been successful so far have had more cooperation from local municipalities. Others have not been as fortunate, as municipalities across the state vary widely in requirements for approval of construction work, use permits, and other local permits and requirements.
A dispensary is scheduled to open soon in the old Pow Wow building, located at 752 Navajo Blvd. in Holbrook. Arizona Public Service Co. inspected the building and found a problem with an electrical panel. The panel is being replaced and then the building can be approved as operational.
The Winslow dispensary, located at 2015 W. Third St., should be getting its occupancy certificate soon. According to Winslow Planning and Zoning Manager Paul Ferris, “As of Friday, May 31, the entity who wishes to operate a medical marijuana dispensary has been granted a conditional use permit and is renovating an old service station. They still need to get final approval from the State Department of Health Services and then finish construction before they can get a certificate of occupancy.” Their plan is reportedly to grow marijuana there and infuse it into different types of products for ingestion.
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By Julie Wiessner