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News, Politics

Arizona Gets Sued Over Scarcity of Rural Medical Dispensaries

Kat Helgeson

by Kat Helgeson

April 19, 2021 10:30 am ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Arizona Gets Sued Over Scarcity of Rural Medical Dispensaries

When a state legalizes medical cannabis, it’s normal for there to be a period of growing pains such as shortages of products and dispensaries. After all, any place that has newly legalized medical cannabis is now faced with the challenge of building a new industry and an entirely new market from the ground up. Officials not only have to figure out the most efficient way to cultivate to meet the needs of the entire state but also create an infrastructure that is compliant with local and state laws all at the same time.

There will be a need to develop a financial framework and decisions will need to be made over what will be done with the new revenue. On top of all that, there will also be a critical need to fill the many job openings in the new industry. Jobs such as dispensaries, cultivation, and quality control are paramount for servicing the cannabis industry. In Arizona, the state has struggled greatly. So much so, there is a severe shortage of dispensaries in rural areas even years after medical legalization went into effect. According to media reports, Mason Cave, a board member of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, is suing the state for its failure to deliver on a promise to establish medical cannabis dispensaries.

Cannabis Legality in Arizona

Recreational cannabis was legalized in Arizona just last November. Given that only a few months have passed since that law went into effect, it’s tempting to say that that’s why Arizona is still having trouble with dispensary openings and availability.

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But actually, that’s not it at all. Medical cannabis has been legal in Arizona for over ten years, giving the state plenty of time to have established convenient dispensaries for all those who need them. By this time, one would think that the cannabis industry would be an intrinsic part of the state’s economy and that most of the problems would have been ironed out. However, medical cannabis remains very difficult to obtain for certain people in the state of Arizona—often those whole most need help with accessibility.

The Problem With Arizona Dispensaries

The difficulty in Arizona is twofold. First of all, licensed dispensary owners have a tendency to move their businesses to more populated areas. That is to say, if a dispensary does open in a rural area, it’s likely to pursue greater profits as it begins to grow its business and will eventually move to a city. That means that rural users of medical cannabis haven’t been able to rely on dispensaries remaining open, even if one should happen to open near where they live.

The other problem is how difficult it is to obtain a license to open a dispensary in the first place. According to media reports, Mason Cave, the man who is bringing the lawsuit against the state, has submitted eight applications for his own license to open a medical cannabis dispensary over the past couple of years. Cave’s plan is to open more dispensaries in rural areas, to provide better access for those who don’t live in cities. But every time, his application has been denied. The Arizona Department of Health Services has told him that no new applications are being accepted—an explanation that makes sense in a state with an overabundance of dispensaries, but not in one with a scarcity. 

Not having medical cannabis dispensaries in rural areas is a big problem for some Arizona citizens. Those who need medical cannabis the most are often those suffering from severe or debilitating conditions such as cancer, chronic pain, or other disabilities. Having to spend hours in the car to access the treatment they need isn’t a good solution for them. According to Cave’s attorney, the Arizona Supreme Court has indicated that the Health Department is obligated to accept licensing applications in counties where there is either no dispensary at all or where there is a ratio of less than one medical cannabis dispensary for every ten traditional pharmacies. In the meantime, news reports say that Cave isn’t certain how long the case will take or if the state’s health department will open up for more dispensary applicants. 

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