Arizona's medical marijuana law takes effect - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Arizona's medical marijuana law takes effect

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Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 3:24 pm | Updated: 8:45 pm, Thu Apr 14, 2011.

The new medical marijuana law went into effect Thursday, while potential medical marijuana patients gathered at the Green Relief Expo at University of Phoenix stadium to receive recommendations from doctors.

Debilitating conditions, as described by the new law, that could warrant medicine include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, chronic pain and Alzheimer's.

Arizona voters approved the new law last November in the general election. The measure, which was labeled Prop 203 on the ballot, received 50.1 percent of the vote.

Implementation of the law came quickly: The Arizona Department of Health Services was given 120 days to set up the entire program.

"Really over the last 120 days, it has been the policy development phase," said Will Humble, the director of the department.

"We developed the administrative code and rules for regulating and managing the program. Really, basically, (Thursday) is where we make the big shift into operations."

The application process requires potential patients to fill out a form, present an Arizona driver's license or identification card, and provide a current photograph and doctor's recommendation.

Applicants must also submit a signed statement in which they pledge not to use marijuana for recreational purposes or give it to anyone who does not have a medical marijuana card. The entire application process is online.

Patients also must pay a fee of $150. If people have a hard time paying this, a national non-profit organization will be helping patients get access to the medicine they need.

The Medicinal Marijuana Assistance Project of America helps patients get the care they need by helping patients with state fees and bringing doctors to rural communities. The group also was one of the sponsors of Thursday's expo.

The organization also gives disabled veterans an automatic 50 percent discount of treatment and gives free care to those patients who cannot afford the 50 percent off.

"We help on the financial side. You know, a lot of people don't have insurance. The way health care is designed in America a lot of people end up taking on the burden of those bills and they can't afford the proper medicine they need," said Vince Palazzotto, the executive director of the organization.

Patients will be able to either cultivate their own marijuana or obtain the medicine from a dispensary. They would be allowed to buy up to two and a half ounces every two weeks.

Initially, all patients will be required to grow, though.

"The initial cards will all say, ‘Authorized to cultivate.' The reason that they are going to say that is because we will not have any (medical marijuana) dispensaries up and running probably until October," Humble said.

The law allows people who live more than 25 miles away from a dispensary to grow up to 12 plants for their personal use.

This means that anyone who receives a card from the time the law takes effect through late summer will be able to grow. This changes once the dispensaries have opened their doors.

Once this occurs, patients who live within the 25-mile radius of a dispensary will not be allowed to cultivate their own medicine anymore.

Humble said the agency has not worked out the process that will let patients know that a dispensary near them has started offering medicine.

Once dispensaries open shop, the stores will be allowed to cultivate their own medicine or obtain it from another dispensary or a qualified patient.

The medical community has had a mixed reaction to it. Many support it, but that does not necessarily mean that those doctors will write recommendations. Some practices will not offer it at all.

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