PHOENIX - Marijuana shops that will be set up under a new Arizona law would be strategically located throughout the sprawling state to limit the number of patients allowed to grow the drug for themselves, according to preliminary rules posted Monday.
Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in November, but part of the law stipulates that patients can grow their own marijuana only if they do not live within 25 miles of a pot shop.
The Arizona Department of Health Services is hoping to section off the sprawling state into 126 areas based on population, with each getting only one marijuana dispensary. The more populous the area of the state, the more dispensaries.
The Phoenix metro area, for example, would have 46 dispensaries.
But rural areas such as Kingman, Ajo, Payson and the Navajo Nation would have only one dispensary to serve a much larger geographic area.
The changes come after the department posted the first draft of the rules in December and got feedback from doctors, patients, potential pot shop owners, police and the public.
"We got concerns from cities who were saying, 'Look, if all the dispensaries are in the urban core, our whole community is going to be self-grow,' " department Director Will Humble said. "The more home-grow situations you have, the more community problems you'll have."
He said growing pot in homes leads to fire hazards and an increased threat of break-ins.
Humble said limiting dispensaries to specific areas also eliminates the possibility of clusters of pot shops, a magnet for crime.
Humble acknowledged that it will be more difficult to get dispensaries wanting to open in more rural, far-flung parts of the state. "We probably will not get a dispensary in every (area)," he said, but denied that the state was trying to further limit the number of pot shops.
Humble said if a designated area goes unused, it could be reallocated elsewhere in the state or simply left open. If more than one dispensary applies to open in a given area, qualified applicants will be chosen with a lottery system.
The revised preliminary rules also are open for public comment before they will be finalized next month. Patients can begin applying to use medical marijuana in April, and would-be dispensaries can begin submitting applications in May. The first pot shops could open in the late summer or early fall.