Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Medical-marijuana dispensary operators are apprehensive about plans by a powerful marijuana-advocacy group to campaign for full legalization of the drug in Arizona. The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates marijuana legalization and regulation, is a former ally of the dispensary owners, having played a key financial and public-relations role in passage of the state law that created the burgeoning medical-marijuana program.
Bolstered by the Obama administration’s announcement that it will not challenge such laws, the group intends to pursue full legalization in Arizona through a voter initiative in 2016 and in nine other states over the next two election cycles. The initiative will be modeled on a program in Colorado, which has legalized marijuana for recreational use.
But the group may have a tough time selling their plan to the state’s medical-marijuana dispensary operators, who are capitalizing on the growing market, have invested thousands of dollars to get up and running and say they favor the status quo — a system in which doctors must recommend cannabis for medical purposes. The program allows certain businesses and individuals to grow marijuana in large quantities, but home growers are fading away as dispensaries open across the state.
Uneasiness among some dispensary operators highlights the divide between medical-marijuana advocates and recreational proponents — a split that could complicate any effort to further loosen Arizona’s marijuana laws.
“I’m not so sure that, at this stage, we would be for immediate legalization,” Bill Myer, co-owner of Arizona Organix in Glendale, told The Arizona Republic. “We’ve still got some issues to work through with the laws we currently have. The program is still in it’s infancy. “I think Arizona should probably digest what’s going on here before we move forward with what’s going on in Washington and Colorado. Is it going to be a great program, or is it going to be a problem? We don’t know that.”
Myer and some other dispensary operators said they are concerned about their financial investments and question how legalizing recreational use, which could increase the number of dispensaries, would impact their bottom line. Other operators said they favor increased access to marijuana for adults but are remaining neutral on full legalization until they see initiative language from the Marijuana Policy Project. “There’s significant financial investments involved,” Myer said. “Dispensaries may not be able to recoup before other people are made available to do the same things with very little capital investments. It’s absolutely our concern.”