Arizona Medical Marijuana Program Moves Forward

Arizona’s medical marijuana law has been in effect since April 14, 2011. This summer, the Arizona Department of Health Services will accept applications for dispensaries and will consider adding four new ailments to the law’s accepted conditions for a medical marijuana registry card.

Arizona became the 16th state to allow medical marijuana after voters passed the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act on Nov. 2, 2010. Under the law, qualifying patients can possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks, and a caregiver – who can assist up to five patients – can possess up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks per patient.

Governor Jan Brewer attempted to thwart the voter-approved law by filing a lawsuit in May, just before the ADHS was to begin issuing licenses to businesses that wanted to open nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries. The ADHS has approved locations for 126 potential dispensaries throughout the state – one for every Community Health Analysis Area, which equates to one for roughly every 10 regulated pharmacies.

The CHAA for Safford consists of southern Graham County and takes in the Gila Valley. Graham County and the municipalities of Safford, Thatcher and Pima all created zoning regulations in preparation for a dispensary.

On Jan. 4, 2012, United States District Court Judge Susan Bolton ruled in favor of a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and dismissed Brewer’s lawsuit. In her order, Judge Bolton said Brewer’s complaint was not appropriate for judicial review for lack of evidence.

Another lawsuit, Compassion First LLC v. State of Arizona, was filed because the plaintiffs argued the rules made up by the ADHS would exclude them from the dispensary selection process and claimed the rules were unconstitutional.

On Jan. 17, 2012, Maricopa Superior Court Judge J. Richard Gama granted a summary judgment for the plaintiffs and said regulations requiring dispensary applicants to be an Arizona resident for three years, to have never filed for personal or corporate bankruptcy and requiring applicants to submit Arizona personal income tax returns for the previous three years and other regulations were unconstitutionally vague and invalid. The judge then ordered the state to implement the lawful provisions of the AMMA.

The rulings forced the ADHS and its director, Will Humble, to once again begin the dispensary licensing process.

Dispensary registration certificate applications will be accepted for 10 working days beginning May 14 through May 25.

New conditions to be considered

The ADHS accepts petitions to add debilitating conditions to the AMMA in January and July each year. This January, it accepted four new conditions for consideration – post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, migraines and generalized anxiety disorder. Currently, the accepted conditions include AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, glaucoma and hepatitis C. Patients may also qualify if they have severe and chronic pain, seizures, wasting syndrome, severe nausea or severe and persistent muscle spasms.

After PTSD was added as a qualifying condition to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, it became the number-one ailment listed for cannabis treatment. Humble recently estimated that if PTSD was added as a qualifying condition in Arizona, it could add 15,000 to 20,000 new patients. Currently, Arizona has issued a little more than 22,200 medical marijuana registry cards in total and has only denied nine applications.

People ages 31 to 50 make up the largest group of patients and represent about 40 percent of all medical marijuana users. The next-highest group contains people ages 51 to 81 and represents more than 35 percent; people ages 18 to 30 make up about 25 percent, and less than 1 percent of patients are younger than 18.

If PTSD is allowed, most of the patients would likely be veterans. In September 2011, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes published an article about Army Sgt. Jamey Raines, who said he used cannabis to treat his PTSD, which was caused by heavy combat duty in Iraq. Raines said the cannabis was the only substance he found that effectively treated his ailment.

A study in the Journal of Neuroscience written by Israeli physician Irit Akirav stated that an animal study he performed found that cannabinoids – the active chemicals in marijuana – reduced the effects of PTSD. Conversely, another study by the American Medical Association suggested that Risperdal, a widely prescribed antipsychotic, is no more effective in treating PTSD than placebos.

According to the AZDHS, to have a new condition considered, petitioners must list articles on the effects of medical marijuana on the medical condition as well as the availability and effectiveness of conventional treatments along with other components.

Proponents to add migraines to the list of acceptable medical conditions say when cannabis is consumed or smoked, retrograde inhibition slows down the rate of neurotransmitters in the brain. Migraines are often caused by an overload of neural stimulation. Retrograde inhibition also relieves pain and other symptoms associated with a full-blown migraine headache, including nausea and sensitivity to lights.

Proponents to add anxiety say that while some medical marijuana users may experience slight anxiety as a side-effect, those who suffer from anxiety could find relief from their ailment through cannabis.

Proponents to add depression to the list say patients who use marijuana once or more weekly reported fewer episodes of depression, and the drug is said to elevate the mood of those chronically depressed.

The federal government’s stance on marijuana remains the same, however, and it is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance with “no currently accepted medical use” despite the litany of medical uses listed in the 16 states that have approved medical marijuana and its history of thousands of years of medicinal use. Opponents of medical marijuana claim patients can use conventional treatments instead of cannabis with the same results.

Other Schedule 1 substances include heroin, LSD and peyote – all of which cannot be prescribed to patients. Schedule 2 substances such as morphine, opium, oxycodone, methamphetamine and cocaine, however, may be prescribed to patients.

In June, 2011, the Drug Enforcement Agency refused a 2002 petition to reclassify marijuana even after numerous other agencies, including the American Medical Association, called for it. A bill introduced in the House of Representatives titled “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011” has languished in the House’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security since August 2011.

The ADHS will take comments on the petitions until 5 p.m. on May 25. To make a comment, visit the service’s Web site at

The department has scheduled a public hearing on the petitions for May 25 to be held at 250 N. 17th Ave. in Phoenix. PTSD will be discussed from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and the rest of the petitions will be discussed from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Humble will ultimately make the decision to add the conditions. His decisions can be appealed through a judicial review.

Source: Courier

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