Cannabis clubs could be forced to close; AG calls activity illegal

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PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is hoping to close down "cannabis clubs" that charge membership fees to medical marijuana patients, who can then get the prescription drug for free.

It is legal for patients to swap medical marijuana as long as money, goods or services aren't exchanged as payment.

Arizona's recently passed medical marijuana law is in disarray after Horne sued the federal government in May, essentially putting dispensaries on hold.

The Department of Health has continued to issue medical marijuana cards -- about 8,600 to date -- and a majority of those patients have been allowed to cultivate 12 plants each.

But many of those patients are still learning about how to grow their own marijuana, and for now they either buy the drug off the streets or head to so-called cannabis clubs.

At The 2811 Club in Phoenix, applicants have to be pre-screened by an in-house doctor, accepted as a member, and pay a one-time fee of $25. And then $75 every time they visit.

That gets the nearly 500 members classes, online services, a marijuana library and medical marijuana -- for free.

Members are not allowed to smoke the medical marijuana inside the building.

A separate nonprofit called Arizona Compassion Association, Inc., housed within the club, is made up of a group of 50 growers. The growers, who are also caregivers, can grow more plants than individuals and donate their excess plants to the club for free, which are then handed out to members.

Spokesman Allan Sobol said it's perfectly legal.

"The law is very specific, Arizona revised statutes 36-2811, which is what this club is named after, is very specific," Sobol said. "It allows patients to exchange medical marijuana with another qualified patient. And that's all that's going on here."

Sobol said the membership fees are used to pay overhead, the owners and Sobol himself.

Horne filed civil action asking a judge for clarification on Monday.

"Our view is that since there is an exchange of money involved that it constitutes the selling of marijuana," he said.

A judge is likely to make a decision before the end of the month.