By John Hernandez
Oracle Towne Crier
Medical cannabis (marijuana) is now legal in Arizona. There are 21 states where medical marijuana has been legalized. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized sales and possession for recreational use while 16 states have decriminalized pot. The federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal narcotic with no medical value but has made enforcement and prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries less of a priority now that more states have approved dispensaries. They are also willing to collect taxes on it. It is interesting that the Federal Drug Administration has approved the drugs Cesamet and Marinol which contain synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. These drugs are taken orally and are prescribed by physicians for nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients.
According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent of Americans would support similar laws as the ones in Washington and Colorado. An Arizona legislator, Representative Ruben Gallego has introduced a bill patterned after the Colorado law that would allow anyone over the age of 21 to purchase, possess or consume up to an ounce of cannabis legally. If the bill fails, there are activists that have gathered over 260,000 signatures and are poised to put the measure on the ballot by 2016. As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changing.”
Whether you agree or disagree about the legalization of marijuana, medical marijuana is here to stay. Some states such as California have had medical marijuana since 1996. In Arizona last year 41,000 patients purchased 33 million dollars of medical cannabis. At the end of last year there were 44,675 active medical marijuana card holders. The average age of a female card holder was 46 with the average male being 42 years old. There were 71 dispensaries open and operational during 2013. New dispensaries have since been open with more to come in 2014.
In Oracle, a move is being made to bring a dispensary to town. A public meeting was held on Jan. 28 with Dr. Glenn Wilt and his attorney David Dow explaining their intentions of opening the medical marijuana dispensary in Oracle. They were met with some opposition and many questions from those in attendance. The manager of Bloom Dispensary, Paul Goetz was also in attendance to answer questions about security and procedures used at dispensaries. It was explained to the public that Bloom Dispensary would possibly be managing the Oracle facility if it was approved by the county supervisors. After the meeting I approached Goetz and asked him if I could tour the Bloom facility in Tucson. He said yes and arrangements were made for a tour last Thursday.
Bloom Dispensaries is a management company that manages retail dispensaries and cultivation facilities for state licensed, non-profit certificate holders, in compliance with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. They currently operate two facilities in Tucson and one in Phoenix. They also have a sister dispensary in Sedona. The Phoenix facility was the first dispensary to open in Arizona. They also have a grow facility in Phoenix which supplies product to their dispensaries. Executive Director Lezli Engelking said that security is important. “Every plant is accounted for. We grow our medicine and follow our product from seed to sale. We know who and how it has been handled. We document every step of the way,” said Engelking. She said the grow facility maintains high security and the plants are grown without pesticides in a highly controlled sanitary environment. Bloom also has a line of edibles which are prepared in a quality controlled kitchen.
Security is a major concern of Bloom Dispensaries. Their facility in Tucson that I visited had 15 cameras. The number of cameras exceeds the minimum amount of cameras that are required by law. They are monitored in the manager’s office in a secure area of the facility. There is an alarm system and all the marijuana is locked in a 2,000 pound safe after hours. Paul Goetz said that if the Oracle facility is approved and they get the contract to manage it, the same type of security will be maintained. It will employ 10 people. The three facilities and grow facility have not had any incidents of attempted robbery or burglary since they have been open. The Phoenix dispensary handles between 200 and 300 patients per day.
Goetz walked me through the process when one enters their facility. When you walk through the door, you are in what looks like a medical clinic lobby. You then approach the receptionist and are given a patient information form to fill out that also includes an explanation of the dispensary rules. You must then provide the receptionist with your medical marijuana card and a valid picture identification card. Once the receptionist verifies that the two IDs match, she enters your card number into the Arizona Department of Health Services computer system. This system tracks all marijuana purchases and all purchases must be entered by law by all dispensaries. The patient can only purchase two and one half ounces within a two week period. Engelking explained that most patients do not purchase the limit amount.
After it is verified that the patient can purchase, they are let through a controlled access door into a room where products are displayed and a patient consultant is there to help answer questions about their products and works with the patient to provide the best medicine for the type of ailment that the patient is using the medical marijuana for. The display cases included different types of marijuana with names such as New York Diesel, Blue Widow and Holy Grail. Each of the jars of the marijuana was labeled with the THC percentage and the CBD (Cannabidiol) content. CBD is a non-psychotropic part of the plant that is considered to have a wider scope of medical applications than THC. The label also explained what type of ailment the medicine is used to treat. The medical marijuana is pre-packaged in one gram up to 1/8 ounce packages.
There was also hemp oil and hemp oil balm. These products do not give patients a high. The balm is a topical used to soothe the skin and treat pain by some users. The hemp oil is a dietary supplement. There were also edibles such as caramel corn, espresso brownies and rosemary crackers.
After the patient selects what they want, they return to the lobby where after receiving payment an employee behind a thick glass window places the medicine in a box which delivers it through a slot to the patient. The purchase information is then entered into the Arizona Department of Health Services computerized system and onto the patient’s record kept at the dispensary.
“We take a medical approach in the management of our facilities,” said Engelking. “We are a medical facility, we treat patients not customers. We provide education and information in a professional setting.” She pointed out that they are the only company to partner with Arizona State University Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy which will further the study of medicinal marijuana. The company’s reputation and professionalism has resulted in the state of Nevada partnering with Bloom Dispensaries to help them write their medical marijuana regulations.
Part of Bloom Dispensaries values is giving back to community. “Helping communities is an important part of doing business,” said Engelking. Bloom strives to become an integral part of the community where they operate. They organize volunteers from their patients, staff and others to help at charity events. They work with local neighborhood associations and non-profits. Bloom Dispensaries donates and organizes fundraisers for different organizations and charities. In one of their fundraisers, they raised $2,451 for the families of the 19 firefighters that lost their lives in the Yarnell fire. To learn more about Bloom Dispensaries visit their website at www.bloomdispensary.com or their Facebook page.
The issues of medical marijuana and the legalization of marijuana are still controversial subjects. Medical marijuana is being used by many to treat chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, arthritis, nausea, insomnia and other medical conditions. There is enough research to support the medical benefits of cannabis and public demand for medical marijuana that it was made legal. I urge everyone to do their own research on medical marijuana and dispensaries before making a decision about allowing a dispensary in their town.
Make up your own mind but think about this. The number one drug problem in the United States is the abuse of prescription drugs. More Americans, over 20,000 a year have died from an overdose of prescription pain killers (opioids) such as OxyContin than from heroin or cocaine. There has never been one known death by an overdose of cannabis. Some pain killers are simply synthetic heroin with the same properties as the drug including its addictive nature.