Medical marijuana patients could soon fill prescriptions in Payson if the state issues dispensary licenses next month as planned.
State rules provide for one dispensary in northern and another in southern Gila County within a year of the Aug. 7 lottery. So far, 10 Valley-based companies or individuals applied to open a dispensary in Payson, while Globe received just one request.
The Arizona Department of Health Services will issue just one dispensary license for each of the 126 Community Health Analysis Areas (CHAAs) around the state. Businesses submitted 500 requests for licenses.
Only eight districts had more dispensary applications than Payson, but many others have had no requests, mostly on the Indian reservations.
Nature’s Harvest, a local collective that helps patients get marijuana cards, has applied for a dispensary certificate for its 404 S. Beeline Highway location.
Sheelah Golliglee, who helped open the business in September, said she understands some residents may be leery of a dispensary in town.
Arizona, however, has some of the strictest medicinal marijuana laws, she said.
Applicants must get a doctor’s recommendation, carry an identification card and renew their licenses annually.
Each dispensary must have a full-time medical director, keep inventory logs and pay sales tax.
The rules in Payson and Star Valley prevent a dispensary within 500 feet of day cares, parks, churches and schools. In Payson, dispensaries can operate mostly along Highway 87 and near the airport, said Sheila DeSchaaf, town zoning administrator.
Payson does not require an applicant get a conditional use permit, said Town Attorney Tim Wright.
However, Gila County requires a $1,000 conditional use permit and will charge qualified patients $1,000 and caregivers or medical marijuana dispensaries $5,000 for a permit in unincorporated areas.
More than a dozen companies have asked Payson for preliminary zoning approval to open a dispensary. It is unclear how many of those actually applied for a dispensary license.
Star Valley did not respond to a request for information about how many people have applied for permits there.
The state requires each applicant to have $150,000 in liquid assets. Applicants also had to pay $5,000 for the state to even consider their application.
The state will broadcast a lottery drawing for certificates Aug. 7.
Golliglee praised the state for drawing a hard line on medical marijuana even though Gov. Jan Brewer asked the federal court system to decide whether the voter-approved law was valid.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton dismissed Brewer’s lawsuit against the voter-approved Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
“I think (Brewer) is going about it the right way. If the people in California and Colorado would have done what the people in the state of Arizona are doing, then they wouldn’t have the challenges that they are having,” Golliglee said. “People took advantage of it and were doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Brewer appointed Golliglee to the state’s Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board. The board meets with doctors suspected of issuing medical marijuana recommendations unlawfully.
Since September, Nature’s Harvest has helped 700 people receive medicinal marijuana identification cards at its Payson and Lakeside locations.
Golliglee said most clients are older than 55. Elsewhere, the majority of applicants are male (nearly 75 percent) and between the ages of 18-30 (26 percent).
Chronic pain is by far the most common qualifying condition.
Most patients use marijuana to get off narcotic painkillers, she said.
Golliglee pointed to a wall of greeting cards from patients who got off methodone thanks to marijuana.
Golliglee only wishes she could have provided her father with the same relief.
Five years ago, Golliglee’s father lost both his legs in a severe accident.
Although her father survived, he emerged from the hospital addicted to narcotics, she said. It broke her heart to watch her father, who had served on the sheriff’s posse and rodeo committee, become increasingly numb to painkillers.
“He was in so much pain and addicted to morphine,” she said. “When morphine wasn’t enough, they gave him methadone. His body succumbed to the pain and the narcotics just ate him alive.”
After her father’s accident, Golliglee began researching the benefits of medical marijuana.
“If only I had known then what I know now.”
Inspired by the results, Golliglee started Nature’s Harvest, a wellness center.
The facility cannot house marijuana. Currently, only a caregiver or a qualified patient can give another qualified patient medicine.
In addition, the supplier cannot receive compensation for the marijuana.
At Nature’s Harvest, Golliglee brings patients together with caregivers.
First, a patient meets with Golliglee and she suggests a marijuana strand that best treats that ailment.
Golliglee calls a caregiver with an “order,” which they drive to the wellness center next door, where they give it to the patient.
The only money exchanged is between the patient and Nature’s Harvest for the wellness consultation and education, she said. She said the medicine “is pretty much donated” by the caregiver, who grows it.
A licensed dispensary can receive payment, but only for expenses incurred during operation, according to the state law approved by the voters on a ballot initiative.
Golliglee said Nature’s Harvest is not like the co-ops found in the Valley. Many of those house marijuana on site and do not offer education or wellness information.
By statute, all dispensaries must operate as nonprofits and register as a 501 3(c) with the state.
While police shut down many of the “pot shops” that sprang up around the Valley, many more found ways around the law.
Nature’s Harvest has had no issues with local authorities. Golliglee, a resident of Payson for 18 years, said she communicates with officers openly.
“You don’t see any big pot leaves on our building,” she said. “I am trying to be extremely respectful of our town.”
In November 2010, Arizona became the 14th state to legalize medical marijuana. Voters barely passed the initiative. Golliglee said she was among those who voted no.
“I didn’t know any better,” she said. “There is this stigma attached to it.”
After seeing medical marijuana help people, Golliglee, a self-described conservative, changed her mind.
“It can do and has done amazing things and I have seen it.”
Medicinal marijuana alleviates an array of debilitating medical conditions, according to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.
Currently, only a small number of conditions qualify patients for medical marijuana cards in Arizona.
Will Humble, ADHS’s director, may decide later this month to add several more medical conditions.
In January, the state accepted public petitions to add post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, migraines and generalized anxiety disorder to the list.
Humble contracted with the University of Arizona to review scientific studies related to marijuana use and the petitioned conditions.
“The ultimate decision rests with me, the director, and I have a decision deadline in late July,” Humble wrote in a blog post.