Arizona marijuana dispensaries awarded via bingo machine


by Sybil Hoffman

Posted on August 6, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 7 at 12:53 PM

PHOENIX -- Nearly 100 people will get the green light to open a medical marijuana dispensary. But 3TV has discovered those who applied for one won't have to earn it, they'll simply win it.

It's been nearly two years since Arizona voters legalized marijuana and now the wait for the highly anticipated yet controversial dispensaries is over.

Using a bingo-like machine, 99 certificates will be handed out Tuesday morning. The winners will be chosen at random.

"Our team will pull that ball, read off the code, live, but we won't be saying the name of the company or the name of the applicant because the statutory language in the law prevents us from identifying anybody," said Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The lottery-style process is not exactly what the state health director had in mind.

"We were going to whittle the field down in each district by things like have you had a previous bankruptcy, are you behind on your child support, are you behind on your state or federal taxes, we had a series of criteria that would have advanced people to the next level that would have resulted in far fewer people in the ping-pong cage," Humble said.

But a court ruled they couldn't do it that way. So now they'll be drawing numbers.

As Humble explains, "That authorizes them to build out their dispensary, to get their inventory in place, to get their cultivation facility up and running, but it doesn't authorize them to open their doors and sell to the card holders."

That won't happen until an opening inspection takes place. But get ready, shops could be selling marijuana sooner rather than later.

"Theoretically, it would happen in a week or so," Humble said. "I would be surprised if we have anything open in August although it could happen."

The state mapped out 126 areas where dispensaires could open. Some won't have a dispensary simply because no one applied. While other areas were highly sought after.

"There are others around the university that has several, maybe up to 10, so you'll see 10 balls floating around in the cage, one of which will come out," Humble said.

That's because the law mandates there will be only one dispensary per area but, "In our state a qualified patient can go to any of the dispensaries and they can shop based on price, or the kind of marijuana or the customer service, maybe they like the medical director, maybe it's close to home," Humble explained.

While Humble has never been shy about his opposition to legalizing marijuana, he believes the system in place will be solid.

"There are recreational users in the system and there always will be, but I think we've put it together in a way that makes it as medical of a marijuana program as you can get," he said.

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