Problems for medical marijuana patients cropping up

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck
PHOENIX -- When Arizona voters legalized medical marijuana in 2010 the intent was to help patients, but now some medical marijuana patients say parts of the law are doing more harm than good.
First, there’s the portion of the law that requires the Arizona Department of Health to keep a database of everyone who has a medical marijuana card.
“The language of the law requires us to maintain this database so law enforcement and employers can access it,” said Will Humble with the Department of Health Services. "But it’s not like you can punch in your staff’s name and pull up whether they’ve got a card or not.”
Employers must register with the state to gain access to the database, and they can only type in a number from the card to determine if it’s valid. Moreover, sections of A.R.S. 36-2813(b) protect employees from being fired solely because of their status as a cardholder.
Scott Richardson suffers from chronic pain, and has a prescription for medical marijuana. He has grave concerns about what he feels is an invasion of his privacy.
“It’s pretty controversial,” he said. “I think that it’s something that should be in the confidentiality of a doctor and the patient.”
“It’s a medical condition just like any other medical condition,” said Sunny Singh, another medical marijuana patient. “Its medicine you take. Do employees have to openly talk if they’re on Vicodin?”
Humble says his office is not violating anyone’s privacy rights.
“All we’re doing is verifying what’s required by state law, but I don’t think it’s a violation of HIPPA,” he said.
The database isn’t the only problem cropping up for patients. Richardson, who grows his own medicinal marijuana, spent thousands of dollars on growing equipment.
“It took an initial investment to make this happen,” said Richardson, gesturing to his crop of about eight plants. “These hoods, the lights, the bulbs…everything cost a lot.”
Richardson started growing after he couldn’t find anyone to sell him his prescription.
“The law didn’t contemplate all these legal issues we’ve had over the last couple of years, which have really put the dispensaries back about 18 months,” said Humble. “We’ve seen a lot of home-growers, and that’s all happened because we haven’t had the dispensaries up and running like the law intended.”
That will all change in the next six to eight weeks, when the state will finally license the dispensaries.
The law states that if you live more than 25 miles from the closest dispensary you can grow your own marijuana.
For growers like Richardson, that means if a dispensary opens within 25 miles of their operation, they can no longer grow medical marijuana.
“This is really devastating for the grower and patient at home,” said Richardson.
Richardson lives about 45 miles from Phoenix, and says he will have to drive up to 50 miles round trip across South Mountain every time he needs to refill his prescription.
Humble says growers like Richardson should have known from the beginning that they would eventually have to stop growing.
“The rules have been the same from the very beginning,” said Humble.