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Arizona sued over medical marijuana licensing practices

House to vote on historic bill Friday that would decriminalize marijuana
Posted at 3:42 PM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 22:29:16-05

The marijuana business has been booming in Arizona especially after the legalization of pot. While many Maricopa County dispensaries are expanding, and hiring more staff, in some rural parts of Arizona that is not the case.

ABC15 has learned that thousands of medical marijuana cardholders are still struggling to get access to the products, almost ten years after it was legalized. That is because dispensaries that once held licenses in these areas have closed up shop and moved to more populated communities. Several years later, the state has still not opened up the application process to allow prospective business owners to apply for licenses to establish new dispensaries in these communities.

Ivan Riesgo used medical marijuana oils and topicals for back and knee pain. What was once a 5-minute drive to the dispensary had now turned into an almost hour-long drive to Tucson, to get access to his choice of medicine, for his pain and discomfort.

In other parts of Arizona like La Paz, Greenlee, and Apache counties, cardholders were driving 2-3 hours to get to the closest dispensary.

"We are talking about veterans, we are talking about people with cancer, people with other disabilities, and they have to travel that far," said Mason Cave, a board member of the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, and prospective medical marijuana dispensary owner.

Cave said he tried to submit applications to open up dispensaries in some of these rural communities at least eight times in the last 2-3 years. Each time, the Arizona Department of Health Services staff refused to accept his applications telling him they were not accepting any applications at this time.

Cave said he had heard that line for more than three years now, that is why he decided to sue the state of Arizona, for allegedly failing to follow what he called, were their own rules for establishing medical marijuana dispensaries in Arizona.

ABC15 Arizona also spoke to Cave's attorney Logan Elia, with the Rose Law Group.

"The department of health services has refused to accept our applications. They claim they have no obligation to do so. A recent decision by the Arizona Supreme Court suggests that they're entirely wrong about that, and in fact do have to accept those applications," said Elia.

He added that the Arizona state supreme court was very specific in a ruling made during the summer of 2020 stating the state must open up the licensing process under two circumstances. First, if a county had no dispensary at all. Second, if the ratio was below one medical marijuana dispensary for every ten traditional pharmacies in the area.

Cave pointed out that all of these communities had seen an increase in the number of CVS, Walgreens, and other traditional pharmacies and the ratio was well below ten to one, yet the state had still not opened up the application process to allow for a medical marijuana dispensary to set up shop in these areas.

ABC15 Arizona reached out to state health department officials and were told they cannot comment on a pending lawsuit. In regard to when the state planned to start accepting applications for new dispensaries in this 'medical marijuana desert' a spokesman sent us this statement:

"At this time, we have not opened a process to apply to open a dispensary in La Paz County. We have yet to schedule a process for allocation of new dispensary licenses. When we do, we will provide 60 days' notice that the process is set to begin."