Nearly 500 applications have been submitted by those hoping to operate one or more of the 126 legal marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed to open later this year.
And some areas of the state appear to be far more popular with would-be sellers than others.
State Health Director Will Humble said Monday there was a last-minute rush to submit applications by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
“There were people walking in the door at three minutes to 5,” he told Capitol Media Services. And with a couple of hundred requests turned in during the last two days, Humble said the final tally was far more than he had expected.
Most of the applicants will not get their wish.
Under the terms of the 2010 voter-approved law, the state is entitled to have one dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in the state. As it turned out, that worked out to 126 — which just happened to be the same as the number of Community Health Analysis Areas.
So applications were accepted for each area, even though they are not of equal population.
But not all areas proved equally desirable.
The Estrella area southwest of Phoenix garnered the most applications with 16. But a host of other areas generated double-digit requests.
That includes the Catalina area in Pima County and the areas of north Tempe and west Mesa. So did Payson and the east side of Flagstaff.
There were no applications for any of the reservations, as the law requires proof of acceptable zoning and the tribes have been loath to go along. But some other areas of the state apparently were of little interest to prospective marijuana dealers, like the northwest side of Yuma and the land stretching from Tucson’s west side.
Humble said there isn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason for that.
On one hand, the health director said he can understand the crush in Tempe, close to Arizona State University. That happens to be a place where, according to the latest statistics, 645 of the state’s nearly 29,000 registered marijuana users live.
But how do you explain the 10 applications for the Catalina area, given there are only 68 patients there?
Humble said some of it may be where there are areas with suitable zoning. But he also said it may be a “nuance to their business model.”
He pointed out that the dispensaries are allowed to grow their own marijuana, not only for their own retail customers but also to sell to other shops that don’t want to get into the growing business.
For example, he pointed to the fact that nine applications were submitted to open a dispensary in Show Low.
“There may be some facilities up there that allow people to have a large cultivation facility,” Humble opined. And the weather may be more suitable to growing the plants.
“There may not be a lot of revenue in terms of retail sales,” he continued. “But the wholesale market might be desirable.”
The applications which were submitted must include specific addresses, along with certification that the site has the proper zoning. But don’t even bother trying to find out exactly where anyone wants to put one in.
While Humble is allowed to say how many applications he has for each area, the voter-approved law precludes him from disclosing the specific address. In fact, the law is written in a way that keeps those addresses secret even after the approvals are granted — and even after the sites open their doors.
The only people legally entitled to that information are those who hold cards allowing them to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
Still, that information is bound to get out.
One way is that, aside from proper zoning, many communities are requiring dispensary operators to obtain a special use permit. And those requests, filed at the local level, are not shielded from public view.
And then there’s the fact that, even though each area of the state will have no more than one dispensary, there is likely to be competition for customers within the urban areas.
“I think most of them will be doing either social market advertising or actual advertising,” Humble said, with the experience in California suggesting that is likely to benefit the alternative newspapers. And Humble said the more traditional papers are going to have to make some decisions on whether they will accept ads for dispensaries that, while legal under Arizona law, still violate federal drug statutes.
Humble said the goal is to award permits on Aug. 7.
He and his staff will begin reviewing applications next month, first to be sure they have all the required information and, later, in greater detail to review everything from security plans to having a qualified medical director who must be on site or on call.
But, with few exceptions, everyone who has applied gets an equal shot: The system requires a lottery when multiple applicants want to be in the same area.
One of those exceptions, Humble noted, is a provision in the rules to have $150,000 in the bank, something designed to ensure that the applicants have the financial wherewithal to properly operate the facility. Humble said those with that proof will get preference over those without it.
Humble said, though, that if some organization without the cash is the lone applicant for an area, it gets awarded the dispensary permit.
The original rules had also required that applicants have been Arizona residents for at least three years. But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama ruled earlier this year Humble had no authority under the voter-approved law to include such a hurdle.
Gama also threw out rules which would have given preference to applicants who had never filed for bankruptcy or those who are current on child support, are paying their student loans on time and are not delinquent on taxes.