Health department crafts rules for Arizona's new medical marijuana law - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Health department crafts rules for Arizona's new medical marijuana law

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Posted: Saturday, December 18, 2010 1:00 pm | Updated: 4:03 pm, Mon Dec 20, 2010.

The top state health official says buyers of medical marijuana should know when the plant was grown, whether pesticides were used and even how often it was watered.

But you're on your own if you want to know if you're getting the good stuff or just ditch weed.

That's the way the Department of Health Services is crafting rules for the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect in March.

Those rules, which are now being circulated for public comment, include:

• Requirements on how often a doctor needs to have seen a patient before being able to recommend marijuana;

• A mandate that each dispensary have a medical director on staff to educate patients and answer questions;

• Security requirements for cultivation sites;

• Identification requirements for buyers.

State Health Director Will Humble said the rules also will spell out that the only place patients can light up to "medicate" themselves is pretty much in the privacy of their own homes or yards. Smoking on a sidewalk or in a public park - places where cigarettes are permitted - will be off limits.

And if someone needs medication in the middle of the day?

"The prohibition applies to the SMOKING of marijuana," Humble said. "We want to be sensitive to others in the community who may not believe that this is a good idea. They don't want their kids to see people smoking marijuana, for example."

But there is a loophole of sorts which would allow self-medication any time, any place.

"You could still CONSUME marijuana if it was infused into a smoothie or a brownie or some other mechanism where you could ingest it," he said.

The rules are the outgrowth of voter approval last month of Proposition 203. It allows those who have a specific recommendation from a doctor to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

But Humble, having seen the specialty walk-in "clinics" that sprang up in California and Colorado, is moving to ensure that doesn't happen here. So the proposal includes a fairly restrictive definition of what constitutes an "ongoing physician-patient relationship" which is necessary before a doctor can actually recommend marijuana.

"One option is that this has been their patient for at least one year and they have had four visits with this patient over any period of time," he said.

Humble conceded, though, there are situations where someone may have a newly diagnosed condition that fits within the legal definition of what can be treated with marijuana. For example, he said, someone may have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, be undergoing chemotherapy, and want marijuana to treat the nausea.

In those situations, Humble said, a recommendation could be written by a physician who has done a complete medical history, done a physical examination "and is committing to primary responsibility for the management and routine care of the patient's debilitating condition."

In both cases, he said, the restrictions should preclude a doctor from just hanging out a shingle as a marijuana specialist to attract new patients - patients he or she never has seen before and never expects to see again.

But Humble said his agency won't be second-guessing doctors who, if they meet the requirements of the rules, issue the necessary recommendation for a patient to obtain marijuana.

That still leaves the question of quality control.

Humble's rules would require that drugs offered for sale at a state-regulated dispensary be labeled with everything from when the plant was grown and how often it was watered to whether it was treated with pesticides or fertilizer.

But buyers are on their own in their effort to find the good stuff - the plants with the highest quantity of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

"We've got some basic labeling requirements," Humble said.

"But we haven't gone that extra step to require an analysis to determine exactly how much THC is in every single piece of inventory," he said. "And I doubt that we're going to go there."

Humble said even if he wanted the state in the business, there are too many variables even among the same strains of marijuana, such as how the plants were grown, to make such analysis worthwhile.

Much of what is in the proposed rules involves how the marijuana dispensaries can operate.

There are no limits on hours or locations. Humble said those are being handled by each individual community through zoning regulations.

His interests are elsewhere.

A dispensary that wants to sell brownies or other forms of edible marijuana would have to obtain the necessary permits and equipment to operate like a restaurant.

The rules do permit a dispensary to contract out the baking to someone else. But that will require someone from the dispensaries to take the marijuana there, stand by while it is processed, and then hand-carry it back to the dispensary.

One specific mandate is for each dispensary to have a medical director, someone who would have to be a doctor. That is a requirement that does not exist in any other state.

Humble said that person would be responsible for providing educational materials to patients when they come in to make a purchase.

That would include information ranging from addiction and side effects to helping patients identify if the marijuana actually is helping.

There also are security requirements - including one to require each dispensary to have cameras that are hooked up live to the Internet to allow state health officials, armed with a password, to actually see what is going on at any site at any time.


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