Recognizing that marijuana doesn't just "happen,'' state Health Director Will Humble said Thursday said he will license new dispensaries even if their owners have nothing ready to sell.
Humble said state regulations require that once dispensaries are licensed they must immediately open their doors for customers and stay open for at least 30 hours a week. That means having something to sell.
But he said the law precludes anyone from even starting to cultivate some seeds to grow a crop until they have that license. Nor can they even ask others who have marijuana to let them have some until that moment.
So Humble has decided to provide a grace period to give new shop owners the time to stock their shelves. And the amount of time provided will vary by each dispensary's need.
Humble already has been doing that, at least informally.
He said the Glendale operation that finally opened its doors had its license for days ahead of time. That gave the owners a chance to get some product from "caregivers,'' people who were permitted under the original 2000 voter-approved law to grow marijuana for themselves and up to five patients.
And, at 12 plants per patient, that means 72 plants at any one time -- enough to spare some.
But not everyone, he said, will have caregivers who are willing to part with some of their crop. Humble said that's why he's willing to be flexible in providing some breathing room.
Humble said he's already granted extensions to dispensaries he's approved in Tucson and Dragoon giving them more time to stock up.
And what if shops are starting from seeds which have been acquired -- presumably legally -- elsewhere?
"Then it will be a long time before they get operating,'' he said. But Humble, who said he has been getting quite an education into issues like marijuana cultivation, said there are other options.
"I didn't know anything until we started doing the rules,'' he said.
"I found out that the female plant, you can have a cutting,'' Humble explained. "And that gives you a head start for getting the new plant, kind of like they do with cactus.''
That, he said, might be easier to acquire.
"A caregiver might be willing to give you some cuttings, but not all their stuff,'' he said.
And it has to be donated: While dispensaries can sell to each other -- something that may happen once there are enough up and running -- caregivers and patients cannot be compensated for what they give to a dispensary.
Humble said there is only one hard-and-fast deadline for those shops to be open: Aug. 6, 2013.
The allocation of the authority to operate one of 126 dispensaries in the state, awarded this past August, gives them one year to do the necessary construction, set up the required security, pass final inspection and be operating. Otherwise they lose their allocation and it can go to someone else.