I wouldn’t be a good attorney unless I prefaced this article with a few disclaimers: 1) Marijuana is still a controlled schedule I substance and is illegal in the eyes of the Federal Government of the United States; 2) This article is not to be construed as legal advice, nor is intended to take the place of the advice of an attorney, and you should consult with an attorney before taking any actions in furtherance of the subject matter of this article. Ok, let’s begin.
In the month of November, the State of Arizona passed Proposition 203, which would exempt certain people from controlled substances laws in the State of Arizona. However, it will still take some time before medical marijuana is implemented as policy in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Health Services has released a proposed timeline for the drafting of the rules surrounding the implementation of Proposition 203. So far, these are the important time periods that should be paid close attention to:
December 17, 2010: The first draft of the medical marijuana rules should be released and made available for comment on this date.
January 7, 2011: This will be the deadline for public comment on the first draft of rules mentioned above.
January 31, 2011: The second draft of the rules will be released on this date. Once again, it will be available for informal comment as in the draft referred to above.
February 21 to March 18, 2011: More formal public hearings will be held about the proposed rules at this time, after which the final rules will be submitted to the Secretary of State and made public on the Office of Administrative Rules website.
April 2011: The medical marijuana rules will go into effect and be published in the Arizona Administrative Register.
It is important that at all times throughout the consultation process, interested parties submit briefs and/or make oral presentations when permitted. Groups with interests contrary to those of medical marijuana advocates may also be making presentations, and may convince the State to unnecessarily restrict the substance or those who may qualify to access it if there is no voice to advocate in favor of patients’ rights.
Some key points about Proposition 203’s effects
-Physicians may prescribe medical marijuana for their patients under certain conditions. “Physician” is not defined in a way limited to normal medical doctors. Osteopaths licensed under Title 32, Chapter 17; naturopaths licensed under Title 32, Chapter 14; and homeopaths licensed under Title 32, Chapter 29 may all be eligible to recommend marijuana for their patients.
-In order to be prescribed medical marijuana, a person must be a “qualifying patient.” A qualifying patient is defined as someone who has been diagnosed by a “physician” (as defined above) as having a “debilitating medical condition.”
-Debilitating medical conditions include:
• Cancer, glaucoma, HIV positive status, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, or agitation of Alzheimer’s disease or the treatment of these conditions.
• A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces one or more of the following: Cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe and chronic pain; severe nausea; seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.
• Any other medical condition or its treatment added by the Department of Health Services pursuant to Section 36-2801.01.
This last qualifying condition is underlined because it is vitally important during the rulemaking process. Although Proposition 203 allows for the public to petition the Department of Health Services to exercise its discretion to add conditions under this section, bureaucracy is notoriously difficult to get to change any law. The initial discretionary rules for additional treatments could be exercised during the public consultations that occur between December and March, though this is not certain.
It is therefore important that, in the event that the addition of medical conditions is considered during the consultations, any stakeholder who wishes for a medical condition not listed in the first two bulleted items above to lobby during the public consultation periods for the Department to add the additional medical condition to the list of debilitating medical conditions. In order to increase the prestige of any presentations made to justify adding medical conditions under Section 36-2801.01, it may be helpful to solicit the testimony of sympathetic Arizona-licensed medical doctors who can testify on paper and at the public hearings about why the proposed condition should be added. Documents showing that other jurisdictions, both in the United States and elsewhere, currently use marijuana as a treatment for the proposed condition may be helpful, as would medical journals on the subject.
It should be remembered that despite his cheery YouTube videos about the medical marijuana rule drafting process, Director of Health Services Will Humble wrote a submission in opposition to the passing of Proposition 203. He did so on the grounds that the FDA does not test the drug, and even though the federal government’s anti-marijuana policy is well-known it should not be relied on as an authority for unbiased medical marijuana research. There is no reason to believe that Director Humble will be any less inclined to obstruct the use of medical marijuana during the rulemaking stage, and all proponents of medical marijuana should be sure to make their voices heard at the consultations to prevent the obstruction of the intent of Proposition 203.
Extent of Rulemaking during Consultations
There are other provisions in Proposition 203 which will be discussed during the initial rulemaking process, and they will probably be the main focus of the consultations. The consultations will create rules:
• Governing the manner in which the Department of Health Services will accept the petitions from the public previously mentioned, regarding the addition of medical conditions to the list of the already enshrined debilitating medical conditions.
• Establishing the form and content of registration and renewal applications submitted under the medical marijuana law.
• Governing the manner in which the Department will consider applications for and renewals of medical marijuana ID cards.
• Governing the various aspects around the newly legalized nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries, including recordkeeping, security, oversight, and other requirements.
• Establishing the fees for patient applications and medical marijuana dispensary applications.
The most crucial part of the consultation period will be regarding the rules governing the establishment and oversight of medical marijuana dispensaries. If interest groups lobby the Department to make the recordkeeping, security, oversight, and other requirements around dispensaries too restrictive, it will have the effect of reducing the availability of medical marijuana to patients and driving up the price of medical marijuana due to the lack of supply. It could simply become too costly to comply with all of the regulations.
During this stage, it is important that stakeholders-particularly medical marijuana dispensaries from out-of-state, and perhaps pharmacists with a bit of economic knowledge-submit briefs explaining why certain proposed rules may have a negative effect on the patients this Proposition is supposed to help. The proposed rules have not come out yet, but when they do, they should be closely scrutinized for the possible negative impact that unnecessarily tough security and recordkeeping on nonprofit dispensaries might have on patients.
The other major factor in the rulemaking will have to do with the fees. The Department will be setting fees for medical marijuana dispensaries during the consultation period.
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Proposition 203 provides that the fees may not exceed $5,000 per initial application, and $1,000 per renewal. However, with some lobbying during the public consultation, it is possible that the actual fees will be much less since these are simply the maximum that the Department may charge.
Discrimination against Medical Marijuana Users
Under Proposition 203, discrimination against medical marijuana users will be prohibited in certain circumstances. Based on our analysis, a person may not:
• As a school or landlord, refuse to enroll someone or otherwise penalize them solely for their status as a medical marijuana cardholder, unless not doing so would result in the loss of a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations.
• As an employer, discriminate against hiring someone, or terminate them or impose any conditions on them because they are a medical marijuana cardholder, unless not doing so would result in the loss of a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations. Employers may still terminate employees if the employee is in possession of or impaired by marijuana on the premises of the place of employment or during the hours of employment.