The first medical-marijuana dispensary in the state could very well be in Tucson—and it could be open soon if the state crosses a few T's and dots some I's.
"We're ready to open doors, pending their inspection," said Ken Sobel, who plans two local dispensaries under the name Green Halo: one at 7710 S. Wilmot Road, near Interstate 10, and one at 4045 E. 29th St., just east of Alvernon Way.
Green Halo was the first dispensary operator in the state to call for a site inspection, which is the last step before opening. Green Halo told the Department of Health Services on Sept. 29 that the Wilmot Road site is ready. As of Oct. 5, the state had not responded. The rules are a bit vague, according to Sobel, but it appears the DHS has "about 45 days" to inspect the building and either approve or reject the application. Sobel is sure the site—which has all of the necessary city approvals—will pass.
"We've done everything we can do," he said recently.
The opening of a dispensary would cap a lengthy process that began after the state published the rules last year. Green Halo (a different entity from the Green Halo Caregiver Collective, which was busted by the Counter Narcotics Alliance in July) put together something in the neighborhood of 1,200 pages of documentation on everything from occupancy (approved by the city) to the square footage of the lobby (it has to be at least 25 percent of the total square footage, which can't be more than 2,500) to the qualified dispensary agent (background check, thank you very much).
"It's not easy. It's probably the most-regulated small business you can imagine," Sobel said.
He doesn't think the state is intentionally stalling. The system is new, and there have been a few glitches, including problems with dispensary-agent login at the DHS website. Sobel thinks the DHS is acting in good faith and will clear the glitches soon. He hopes so, in any event—because he has done everything possible to open quickly.
"We have patients who need safe access to medication. We felt obligated to open as soon as possible," he said.
By last week, the state had issued 33 dispensary-registration certificates statewide, including the two for Green Halo. All were doled out after a lottery on Aug. 8. If you count the Pascua Yaqui Nation and the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation, there are 15 dispensary zones (Community Health Analysis Areas) in and around metro Tucson. No one applied to open in three of those—the city's westside and the tribal lands. By late last week, the state had issued registration certificates in five local CHAAs. Of those, only Green Halo had asked for an inspection.
It seems the train has left the station. Because the rules are set, it would take a court order to halt the opening of dispensaries now, said DHS spokeswoman Carol Vack. She didn't see anything in the rules that would allow the DHS to stop the dispensaries.
Rumors are flying about other dispensary openings, but other operators are keeping mum. Perhaps they're waiting to see how Green Halo fares before wading in.
Props to Green Halo for forging a path for the others. Now I guess we just hurry up and wait. I have long had a sneaking suspicion that Gov. Jan and Generalissimo Horne will step in once again to block the opening of dispensaries, but it seems they are running out of reasons to do so.