Two and a half years after Arizona voters legalized medical marijuana, the first MMJ dispensary in Yavapai County is set to open this week.
Organica Patient Group is scheduled to open as early as Wednesday at 856 Highway 89 in Chino Valley, said R.J. Alarcon, president of the company.
Anyone is welcome to stop by and ask questions, Alarcon said.
"There's a lot of misinformation we'd like the opportunity to correct," Alarcon said. "We even went to the police department and told them we were here. There's no manual for them."
The grand opening can't happen too soon for people like Valerie Gooding of Prescott.
Gooding acquired an Arizona medical marijuana patient card a few weeks ago, but finding the marijuana itself has not been so easy for the 69-year-old.
Gooding first obtained a small amount from a caregiver through one of her friends.
"It totally took my pain away," said Gooding, who said she suffers from a painful infection related to one of her two knee replacements. "It was unbelievable."
So she found what she thought was an online caregiver from the Prescott area who would deliver the medical marijuana for a "donation." She said she paid $300, inhaled one hit, suffered a two-day headache and couldn't get her money back.
That incident highlights the benefits of the dispensaries, said Juli Boles, medical marijuana program manager for the Arizona Department of Health Services. The agency has no authority to oversee caregivers like it does dispensaries.
Gooding's "caregiver" was likely violating state law by charging a "donation," since the caregiver wasn't registered with the state as Gooding's provider.
Gooding is anxious for a state-regulated dispensary to open in Yavapai County. She especially is looking forward to buying edibles instead of smoking the marijuana.
"It burns my throat," she said. "It's horrible."
Organica will be selling all kinds of edibles containing marijuana, as well as vaporizers that allow people to avoid smoking marijuana, Alarcon said. And it will deliver its products to people's homes.
"Smoking can be eliminated at this point," he said.
Alarcon and his partners have invested in a high-tech "Medbox" that keeps the marijuana products secure. It looks like a pop and candy dispensing machine.
Boles helped conduct the successful inspection at Organica Thursday. She said that was the first time she'd seen a Medbox versus a regular safe.
Organica features a waiting room in front and dispensary room in back, where card holders can see a menu and small samples of products.
Organica will be getting its marijuana products through another dispensary at this time, since the owners haven't decided whether to open their own growing facility, Alarcon said.
Each dispensary can have one cultivation site anywhere in the state, with no limits on the number of plants, Boles said.
A marijuana growing facility already is in the works in Chino Valley to provide medical marijuana to a couple dispensaries in the Phoenix area. Representatives said they chose Chino Valley for the climate, and they hope to open this month.
People can call 636-5566 for more information about Organica. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 Sundays.
Personal growing will end
For local residents who have become accustomed to legally growing their own medical marijuana or getting it from a registered caregiver, the arrival of a dispensary might not be such good news.
Since April 2012 when the first patient cards were issued, patients and caregivers have been able to grow marijuana legally in Arizona.
When the dispensary opens on the south side of Chino Valley, people who live within 25 miles will no longer be able to get new or renewed cards that allow them to grow marijuana themselves, Boles explained. They can continue to grow their own until their cards expire.
Patients can request lists of dispensaries, and by summer the state will be emailing updated lists to patients every month, Boles added. However, the voter-approved law doesn't allow state officials to make the lists public.
The number of patient cardholders in the Prescott and Verde Valley areas ranks in the top 25 statewide.
Yavapai County has approximately 2,475 patient cardholders, with most of them located in the more populated areas. About one-third of the state's patient cardholders are men with chronic pain, with the largest percentage (27 percent) in the 18-30 age group.
Yavapai County also has at least eight registered caregivers who grow marijuana for patients.
The state conducted a lottery to award one dispensary each for 126 geographical areas. All lottery winners have until June 7 to apply for a state "approval to operate" certificate, Boles said, but they have no specific deadline to open.
Eight dispensaries are allowed in Yavapai County at this time. County Development Services Director Steve Mauk said his office has fielded calls from dispensary agents about most of the unincorporated areas.
The only state zoning requirement for the dispensaries is that they must be located at least 500 feet away from schools. Prescott and Chino Valley haven't added to those requirements. But Prescott Valley made its rules so tight that only a few sites qualify, PV Planner Ruth Mayday said.
The Elements Health and Wellness Center is announcing a Memorial Day Weekend grand opening for dispensaries at Mayer and two Phoenix locations, on its website at elementsaz.org. The grand opening for the Elements Therapeutic Dispensary at 10580 S. Highway 69 next to the Harley Davidson store in Mayer is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 25.
That site has not yet submitted an application for an "approval to operate" permit from the Arizona Department of Health Services, according to the ADHS website.
Dispensary lottery winners already have picked locations along Merritt Street in Prescott and East Copper Hill Drive in unincorporated Prescott Valley, but haven't yet applied for state approvals to operate either. Representatives from the Prescott dispensary company called 203 Organics did not respond to efforts to reach them.
Prescott Valley Community Development Director Richard Parker and his wife own the dispensary buildings in Chino Valley and rural PV. Parker declined to comment, except to say he is not involved in the businesses and uses a leasing agent.
"I would have rented those buildings to any uses," he said.
A dispensary in Cottonwood is close to opening, with a routine hearing scheduled for May 14 before the Code Review Board.
The closest existing dispensary to Yavapai County is the Bloom Dispensary located in Sedona just outside the county line. Eighteen have opened statewide.
Because of court wrangling over the legality of Arizona's MMJ law in the face of opposing federal law, it was two years between the time that voters narrowly approved medical marijuana through Proposition 203 and the day the first medical marijuana facility opened last November.
For example, Maricopa County initially refused to give zoning clearance to a dispensary, arguing its employees could face federal prosecution. The Court of Appeals sided with the dispensary.
Alarcon, who currently lives in the Phoenix area, said he first witnessed the benefits of medical marijuana when his mother was suffering from brain cancer in California. The marijuana helped control her nausea and allowed her to eat food, he said.
"She's alive because of it," he said. "It's one of the greatest medicines in 3,000 years for nausea."
Alarcon said he's also an Arizona medical marijuana patient cardholder, because it helps with chronic pain after injuring his shoulder and arm.
"I definitely prefer that over pharmaceuticals," he said.