Even if recreational marijuana was legalized, certification centers like Arizona Medical Marijuana Certification Center would still be open for business.
“They’ll still have the medical side of it. The recreational will be taxed lot higher,” said Jessica Russell, an employee at AZMMCC.
In November 2016 Proposition 205, that aimed to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, was not passed. Safer Arizona has started a campaign to get recreational marijuana back on the ballot in 2018 if they receive enough signatures on their petition.
Arizona Medical Marijuana Certification Center, or AZMMCC, was founded in December 2010 and has since helped qualifying patients obtain their medical marijuana card. They have also been doing work to help get people off of opioids.
If recreational marijuana was legalized, Russell said that there would be two sides to a dispensary- the medicinal side and recreational side. Medical marijuana patients are able to go in with their card and access the medicinal products.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, or AMMA, was passed in November 2010 and went into effect April 14, 2011. Once the legalization went into effect, AZMMCC was able to help patients with the certification process.
The process is similar for most patients. Patients release their medical records to AZMMCC and once the physician with the center approves the medical records, patients are able to schedule a visit.
“The process of getting the card a lot of the time depends on their medical records. When we can retrieve those from the doctor’s offices,” Russell said. “Sometimes that is what ends up taking the most time.”
According to AZMMCC’s pamphlet, titled Marijuana Magazine, patients suffering from conditions such as cancer, Crohn’s Disease, PTSD, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS and seizures may benefit from medical marijuana use.
Opioids are commonly prescribed to help treat severe, chronic pain. Medical marijuana is an alternative for those who don’t want to take opioids and according to Drug Policy, marijuana’s medical safety is supported especially in treating different types of pain.
According to Russell, chronic pain and cancer are the two most common conditions that patients in Arizona seek their medical card for.
The Arizona Department of Health reported that roughly 86 percent of patient’s profiles cited chronic pain as their reason for use.
“These issues are far more important than people realize,” said Kathy Inman, the executive director for Momforce Az.
Momforce Az is a pro-cannabis group that also offers substance education and harm prevention.
There is a $300 fee to obtain a medical marijuana card. Of that fee, $150 goes to AZMMCC and the rest goes to the state and the medical card is valid for one year. Upon expiration, patients seeking to renew it would go through the same process with a fee of $270. The state still requires $150 of that renewal fee, leaving $120 left for the center.
In the Arizona Department of Health’s 2017 monthly report, it shows that there are 125,991 qualifying patients with their medical cards and of that, 82,108 are new applicants.
This number has increased roughly 64 percent from the period between July 1, 204 to June 30, 2015. At that time, there were 80,756 active cardholders according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The state of Arizona allows state-licensed nonprofit dispensaries to produce and provide marijuana to qualified patients.
Qualified patients are those that have a medical marijuana card. A majority of medical marijuana patients are ages 18 to 30 with males making up most of the overall cardholders in Arizona.
However, for profit dispensaries are not allowed according to information provided by Paul Armentano, the NORML Deputy Director. NORML is an Arizona-based group working towards reforming marijuana laws
According to NORML, patients are allowed to possess up to two and a half ounces at any time and may grow their own plants at home if they are further than 25 miles from a state-licensed dispensary.
Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 and their Department of Revenue reported about $1.3 billion in legal sales of both medical and recreational marijuana in 2016.
In Arizona, medical marijuana sales hit close to $280 million in 2016 and roughly $30 million of that went to the state as tax revenue, according to multiple sources.
New Frontier Data, a cannabis data analytics company, estimates that medical sales could climb to $681 million by 2020. However, if Prop 205 had passed in 2016, the medical and adult use of cannabis combined would have totaled about $1.2 billion in 2020.
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