Arizona Business Gazette

It isn’t even legal yet. And it won’t be unless voters approve it.
But more than a dozen companies are setting up shop in Arizona hoping to get into the business of selling marijuana.
It has become a land rush of sorts because the initiative, if passed, will permit just 120 dispensaries in the entire state. That’s far different from California, where that state’s medical-marijuana law has no limit.
The Arizona law does require that the dispensaries be set up as non-profit corporations. But that isn’t deterring would-be marijuana sellers who hope to snare one of those 120 licenses.
Among the first in line is Allan Sobol.
He has been hired by Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona, one of 15 firms that has filed the necessary paperwork with the Arizona Corporation Commission, to get the business up and running and help clear any legal hurdles.
The company is already open for business, although there isn’t any marijuana to sell.
The firm’s website is signing up prospective buyers and doctors who might be interested in referring their patients.
“We call it pre-emptive marketing,” he said. “The company that gets the jump start on this and gets the mailing list of the potential patients is going to be the Number 1 dispensary in Arizona for the future. We decided to go after it.”
That’s where the website and preregistration drive fit in.
“Once the law passes, we’ll provide you with information on how to get your (medical marijuana) card,” Sobol said.
But in soliciting doctors, Sobol is working both sides of the equation.
Proposition 203, if approved, will allow those with a state-issued card to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
But to get that card, a patient needs a written recommendation from a doctor who, according to the measure, will have to do a full assessment of that person’s medical history.
Sobol said that should make Arizona’s operation different from California, where dispensaries actually advertise they can get a doctor’s certification on site. But he said some people will still need to find a doctor sympathetic to their health needs.
So, Sobol mailed information to about 10,000 Arizona doctors, giving them information about the initiative and about the company and asking if they would recommend their patients.
He said several already have responded. Although he won’t share their names, Sobol said the plan is to make the list available if and when Prop. 203 becomes law.
“Out of all the ones we’ve sent out, we’ve only had one doctor who said, ‘Please take me off the list,’ ” Sobol said.
“I think the medical profession is somewhat favorable to this. They want to be able to offer alternatives to patients.”
How many potential patients are out there is unclear.
Legislative budget staffers predicted that 39,600 Arizonans are likely to have the medical-marijuana cards by 2013, with an additional 26,400 people licensed by the state as caregivers, or those who can buy the drug for someone else.
Opposition to the initiative is coming largely from law enforcement and prosecutors, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall.
Both said they see this a first step to legalizing the drug for everyone.
But the proposal also is being panned by the state’s top health official.
Will Humble, interim director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said there probably are some people who would benefit by being able to inhale the now illegal substance. These include those who have nausea stemming from chemotherapy and individuals who need an appetite stimulant to keep from wasting away.
But, he said, the initiative is based on the flawed premise that marijuana can alleviate pain.
The result, he said, is likely to be abuse of the law, both by individuals who want legal access to marijuana and physicians who may, for whatever reason, be less than attentive to what will really help their patients.
Andrew Myers, manager of the Prop. 203 campaign, says there is evidence that marijuana can alleviate pain.
What Humble fails to say is that the alternative for many people would be much more addictive and dangerous drugs, like OxyContin and other opiates, Myers added.