MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWSUIT
Ted Simons: Governor Brewer and state attorney general Tom Horne filed suit last week to see if Arizona's new medical marijuana law violates federal law. Both the governor and attorney general were against the law from the start, but they now say that their concern is if state workers who implement the program are safe from federal prosecution. Here to talk about where the state's medical marijuana program now stands is Arizona department of health services director Will Humble. Thanks for joining us.
Will Humble: Thanks.
Ted Simons: Where do we stand with implementing this law?
Will Humble: Well, we've -- you know, we have 120 days, we talked about this last time I was on. 120 days to get the program up and running and so we did that. We have all of the administrative code, basically the rule book set. We've been accepting qualified patient registration cards for the last six weeks or so, got about 4,000 qualified patients at this point that have cards in their wallet. Tomorrow, we were supposed to begin accepting dispensary applications for those folks that wanted to run dispensaries and because of the lawsuit, we've suspended accepting those applications at least for now.
Ted Simons: Okay, so that's been suspended and because it was supposed to start tomorrow, no one has been accepted yet?
Will Humble: Right, we haven't even posted the application form up on our website, there's no real application to fill out. It’s just that there were folks that were expecting to be able to put in those applications starting tomorrow and, of course, that opportunity won't be there.
Ted Simons: So what are you telling these applications or prospective applicants?
Will Humble: The bottom line, we're telling them when and whether we accept applications for dispensaries will be dependent on the outcome of the legal case. And so what the time frame is on that, I don't know. I mean, there's a lot of factors that go into when courts schedule hearings, preliminary hearings or actual -- the case itself. So I just don't know when that will be.
Ted Simons: As far as now the medical marijuana I.D. cards, are you still processing those?
Will Humble: Right, so we're going to continue to process the qualified patient registration cards in the meantime and one of the reasons we thought that important, because there were self-activating pieces inside the voter initiative that said, look, if of the department doesn't take action to process these cards then a person could just go to the doctor and come out with a slip of paper, get it notarized and that would become a qualified patient registration cared, but there'd be no central registry, we wouldn't know how many certifications physicians were writing. Law enforcement would really have no way of knowing if the sheet of paper they’re looking at was valid or not. So we thought it important to continue issuing the qualified patient cards because it does at least provide some basic structure to the program.
Ted Simons: So there's no caveat for legal problems or something along those lines. If it doesn't work, this happens. If A, then B, in other words.
Will Humble: For dispensaries?
Ted Simons: For the I.D.
Will Humble: For the qualified patient registration cards the statute says if the department doesn't take action, the cards get self-generated in the community and we thought that was compelling in order to -- to keep at least so we've got some oversight with these qualified patient registration cards.
Ted Simons: What are you telling folks applying for the cards? For the dispensary folks you’r sayin, we don’t know, keep an eye out. What are you telling the patients?
Will Humble: One the things that the patients are asking on my blog and other places, we were expecting to be able to buy from a dispensary and what we're saying now is there are two options open to patients. Number one, to -- two legal options open to patients. One is each qualified patient is authorized to grow up to 12 plants for their own medical use. So, that’s option one. Number two, patients can designate a caregiver and that caregiver can grow the marijuana for that patient. Those are the two legal options for patients to get the marijuana. You know, when the -- I don't know whether or when the dispensaries will come online.
Ted Simons: But those options still exist despite the legal wrangles.
Will Humble: Yes, those were written, hardwired right into the initiative language.
Ted Simons: The concern with the governor and attorney general is that state workers could be liable in some way, shape or form. In terms of being prosecuted.
Will Humble: Right.
Ted Simons: How many state workers do you know would be involved in the program, is there a lot?
Will Humble: That's a good question. We've got about four people that are -- they're processing the qualified patient registration cards and they're TEMPs not, not even employees of the state department. We have temps processing the cards, under our oversight, and then for the dispensary piece, we were expecting between three to maybe five or six employees that would be actually doing the field work inspecting the cultivation facilities and the like. We hadn't hired them yet because we have no dispensaries so it's temporary workers at this point.
Ted Simons: Maybe a dozen or so?
Will Humble: The right, and the ultimate question, a larger one, which is -- I'm involved, all right.
Ted Simons: Sure.
Will Humble: So we've got sort of our leadership staff. And I think the idea behind the lawsuit is to definitively answer this one way or the other. I don't know the answer. I'm a public health guy, not a lawyer.
Ted Simons: Right.
Will Humble: And our culture, the way we resolve these kinds of disputes and questions is in the courts and so that's ultimately this will be decided there.
Ted Simons: Until it's decided, what are you saying to your workers? Keep doing what we're mandated to do and until the courts tell us otherwise?
Will Humble: Exactly. Do your job. You’re processing the cards. Keep doing that. We'll answer this question in the court, one way or the other, somehow, some day. But in the meantime, just not going to do the dispensary part and when you look across the country at the U.S. attorney letters that have been going to the various jurisdictions, the focus on the letters has been on the dispensary part of those state laws rather than the patient part of those state laws.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask, are you aware of the states that have medical marijuana programs up and operational, have state workers in any of those states been targeted so far, to your knowledge.
Will Humble: Not that I know of.
Ted Simons: Yeah, so we can leave it there and figure out where we go from here.
Will Humble: Right, I don't know what else to do.
Ted Simons: But it's got to be confusing. It’s got to be a situation where you've got things coming at you from all different directions.
Will Humble: But you know what, that's the life of a agency director. [Laughter] There's a thousand things that happen every week and things come at you from all different directions, and if you can't adjust to things, you won't be able to survive in this kind of job.
Ted Simons: Last question, it’s a big story, and we’re glad you came on to at least tell us a little bit about how the agency is handling this. But, where were these concerns during the campaign for this initiative once things were up and operational, I mean uou had so many meetings and community hearings and such. Didn't anyone stand up and say, hey, this is against federal law?
Will Humble: Well, you know, there’s been this, you know the Japanese have a word that is the unspoken truth and that's sort of the -- there's been a layer of this dichotomy -- federal and state law in conflict and that's been throughout the whole process. It hasn't been during the implementation phase, a major issue of dispute, you know, but the things we had really seen more clearly were sort of conflicts between people who just fundamentally disagree with this concept, not the fact it's against federal law but they don't like the fact that people would be able to smoke marijuana through this program and then other people who passionately believe that this is medication. And so really, that has been the primary conflict. Really, your -- your in a way, your world view, rather than is it against federal law?
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Will Humble: But that layer was always there.
Ted Simons: Kind of the elephant in the corner of the room there.
Will Humble: Right.
Ted Simons: All right. Well, good luck to the elephant and good luck to you. Thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.
Will Humble: Thanks.