It isn’t even legal yet. And it won’t be unless voters approve.
But more than a dozen companies are setting up shop in Arizona in hopes of getting into the business of selling marijuana.
In fact, it’s kind of become a land rush of sorts.
That’s because the initiative, if passed, will permit just 120 dispensaries in the entire state. That’s far different from California where that state’s medical marijuana law has no limit.
The Arizona law does require that the dispensaries be set up as non-profit corporations. But that isn’t deterring would be dealers who hope to get one of those 120 licenses.
Among the first in line is Allan Sobol. He’s been hired by Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona, one of 15 firms that has filed the necessary paperwork with the Arizona Corporation Commission, to get the business up and running and help clear any legal hurdles.
In fact, the company is already open for business, though there isn’t any marijuana to sell.
The firm’s web site is signing up not only prospective buyers but also doctors who might be interested in referring their patients there to pick up their medications.
“We call it preemptive marketing,’’ he said.
“The company that gets the jump start on this and gets the mailing list of the potential patients is going to be the No. 1 dispensary in Arizona for the future,’’ Sobol explained. “We decided to go after it.’’
That’s where the website — and the preregistration drive — fits in.
“Once the law passes, we’ll provide you with information on how to get your (medical marijuana) card,’’ Sobol said.
But in soliciting doctors, Sobol is working both sides of the equation.
Proposition 203, if approved, will allow those with a state-issued card to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. But to get that card, a patient first needs a written recommendation from a doctor who, according to the measure, will have needed to do a “full assessment’’ of that person’s medical history.
Sobol said that should make Arizona’s operation different than California where dispensaries actually advertise they can get a doctor’s certification on site. But he said some people will still need a referral to someone who is likely to be sympathetic.
So Sobol mailed information to about 10,000 Arizona doctors, giving them information about the initiative and about the company and asking if they would recommend their patients.
He said “several’’ already have responded. While he won’t publicize their names at this point, Sobol said the plan is to make the list available if and when Proposition 203 becomes law.
“Out of all the ones we’ve sent out, we’ve only had one doctor who said ‘Please take me off the list,’ ‘’ Sobol said.
“I think the medical profession is somewhat favorable to this,’’ he said. “They want to be able to offer alternatives to patients.’’
How many potential patients are out there is unclear.
Legislative budget staffers predicted that 39,600 Arizonans are likely to have the medical marijuana cards by 2013, with another 26,400 people licensed by the state as caregivers — people who can buy the drug for someone else.
The pro-203 campaign is far better financed than any opposition.
Campaign finance reports show $640,523 in donations, with the lion’s share of that coming from the national Marijuana Policy Project. Foes operating as Keep Arizona Drug Free had collected just $6,685 as of the latest report.
Vocal opposition to the initiative is coming largely from law enforcement and prosecutors, people like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall. Both said they see this a first step to legalizing the drug for everyone.
But the proposal also is being panned by the state’s top health official.
Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said there probably are some people who would benefit by being able to inhale the now-illegal substance. These include those who have nausea from chemotherapy and individuals who need an appetite stimulant to keep from wasting away.
But he said the initiative is based on the flawed premise that marijuana can alleviate pain. The result, he said, is likely to be abuse of the law, both by individuals who want legal access to marijuana and physicians who may, for whatever reason, be less than attentive to what will really help their patients.
Andrew Myers, manager of the Proposition 203 campaign, countered there is evidence that marijuana can alleviate pain.
And Myers said the alternative for many people would be much more addictive and dangerous drugs, like OxyContin and other opiates.