|State won't regulate pot's strength or its quality|
Capitol Media Services
Arizona Daily Star
Posted: Saturday, December 18, 2010 12:00 am | Comments
PHOENIX - The state has no plans to regulate the strength or quality of medical marijuana sold at newly voter-authorized dispensaries when they start opening next year.
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 not its potency.
The Department of Health Services is crafting rules for regulating distribution of medical marijuana once the new law takes effect in March.
"We've got some basic labeling requirements,"
state health director Will 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. And I doubt that we're going to go there." THC is tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
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.
Items included in the proposed rules, which are now being circulated for public comment, include:
• Requirements for 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.
Humble said the rules
also will specify 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, noting that some community members may object to smoking in public areas, particularly with children around. But there are other ways to ingest it, such as in a smoothie or brownie or some other mechanism, he said.
The rules are the outgrowth of voter approval last month of Proposition 203, to allow those with a recommendation from a doctor to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
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" that 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.
For patients with legitimate needs who don't meet that standard, he said, such as someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer, is undergoing chemotherapy, and wants marijuana to treat the nausea, a recommendation could be written by a physician who has done a complete medical history and a physical examination and will continue to oversee the patient's 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 one-time patients.
But Humble said his agency won't second-guess doctors who, if they meet the requirements of the
rules, issue the necessary recommendation for a patient to obtain marijuana.
Much of what is in the proposed rules involves how the marijuana dispensaries can operate, in addition to rules included in each community's zoning regulations covering locations, hours and other conditions.
For example, dispensaries that want to sell brownies or other forms of edible marijuana would have to obtain the necessary permits and equipment to operate like a restaurant, and monitor the entire process if the baking is contracted out.
There also are security requirements - including one to require each dispensary to have cameras hooked up live to the Internet to allow state health officials, armed with a password, to see what is going on at any site at any time.
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