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Lottery-type machine to decide pot dispensaries

PHOENIX — State officials will award the first-ever licenses to legally sell marijuana this coming week under what one prosecutor said is a cloud of having them shut down the moment they open their doors.

The big day comes Tuesday when state health officials will pull out a device most resembling the machine used to pick lottery numbers.

arizona medical marijuana dispensaryIn fact, that’s really what it is: a lottery to determine which of the 486 applicants are going to walk away with a certificate that awards them permission — pending final inspection — to be one of the 126 sites where marijuana can be sold. In areas where there are multiple applicants for the same neighborhood, the business whose pre-numbered pingpong ball that the machine spits out is the winner.

And the competition is even tighter than that.

State Health Director Will Humble said no one applied for a license to sell marijuana in 27 of the state’s 126 “community health analysis areas.” Most of those are Indian reservations, though there was no interest in setting up shop to sell marijuana in Green Valley or San Luis.

And 24 areas others had only one applicant, meaning that organization already is a winner.

So that leaves 462 applicants vying for the 75 remaining areas.

Humble figures that the first dispensaries could be operating in two weeks. But he said these are likely to be by applicants in areas where there was no competition, giving them a head start on their paperwork and planning their security and inventory control systems that the state has to approve before they can open their doors.

But the big question is how long those doors will remain open and whether the winners will ever be able to recoup their investment, ranging from the start-up costs and lease payments on buildings to the $5,000 non-refundable application fee.

“I have been told that the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, John Leonardo, fully intends to prevent any dispensaries from operating in Arizona by seizing each and every one as it opens and commits violations of the (federal) Controlled Substances Act,” claimed Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk in a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer.

She pointed out that Arizona’s 2010 voter-approved medical marijuana law notwithstanding, the drug remains illegal here for all under federal law. And a dispensary license not only grants the right to sell but also to grow the drug.

Polk, writing on behalf of 13 of the state’s 15 county attorneys, chided Brewer’s health department for licensing both cardholders and dispensaries in spite of that conflict.

“We believe it is bad public policy for one arm of the government to facilitate marijuana cultivation and use while another arm of the government is moving to close it down,” she wrote.

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