pot lottery

The Arizona Department of Health Services, which regulates and licenses marijuana dispensaries and establishments, will determine which businesses will receive recreational licenses by lottery.

COCHISE COUNTY — Several applicants in cities and unincorporated areas across the region are clamoring to be chosen by the state as the second marijuana establishment in Cochise County.

And it could all come down to a ping pong ball machine.

The Arizona Department of Health Services, which regulates and licenses marijuana dispensaries and establishments, will, for the time being, be giving out two licenses per county for qualified applicants interested in opening marijuana establishments within their city or county’s jurisdiction.

Recreational marijuana became legal in Arizona after voters approved Prop 207 last year. Medical marijuana was approved in 2010.

Because Cochise County already has a dispensary in Bisbee — Green Farmacy, which now caters to both medical marijuana cardholders and recreational consumers after being given recent clearance to sell to both groups — only one more license is available for the area, state and county officials have said.

State law says the applicant must be chosen at random, Arizona Department of Health Services spokesman Steve Elliott told the Herald/Review Wednesday, and that will likely be done with a ping pong ball machine similar to the ones used to choose winning numbers in a lottery.

“That’s how we did it with medical marijuana and we still have the ping pong ball machine,” Elliott said Wednesday. “The applicant will be chosen in April.”

There are already several applicants in Sierra Vista, Willcox, Bisbee and the unincorporated area of San Simon. The state has been accepting early applications for such enterprises since Jan. 19. The deadline for the applications is March 9.

The applicants in each of the three cities are interested in opening recreational marijuana establishments, officials in each municipality said. That’s different than a medical marijuana dispensary.

Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) § 36-2850(18) defines “marijuana establishment” as: “A single retail location at which the licensee may sell marijuana and marijuana products to consumers, cultivate marijuana and manufacture marijuana products.”

State law § 36-2801 defines a “nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary” as “A not-for-profit entity that acquires, possesses, cultivates, manufactures, delivers, transfers, transports, supplies, sells or dispenses marijuana or related supplies and educational materials to cardholders. A nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary may receive payment for all expenses incurred in its operation.”

Then there are entities that may have a dual license. State law defines that as, “An entity that holds both a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary registration and a marijuana establishment license.”

In Sierra Vista for example, there was a consensus at the Jan. 12 work session to allow marijuana establishments in the city as both dual license and stand-alone operations.

City planner Jeff Pregler said there are about a dozen parties interested in applying for a license to open a marijuana establishment in Sierra Vista. In Willcox, City Manager Caleb Blaschke, said he knows of five applicants who may have already started the application process with the state.

And in Bisbee, the city has received nine applications for a marijuana establishment, officials there said. That would be separate from the Green Farmacy, which already has a dual license.

Applicants must be in compliance with the zoning ordinances established by their respective jurisdiction. When recreational marijuana became legal, the state left it up to each city or county to determine whether they would allow marijuana establishments to open within their city or county limits, even though anyone who is over 21 may grow marijuana in their residence.

Willcox already has passed an ordinance to allow marijuana establishments in the city, Blaschke said. Sierra Vista’s City Council is expected to pass a similar ordinance on Thursday evening. Bisbee is working on an ordinance, as is Douglas. Benson city officials are still debating their options.

Elliott said early applicants are considered those seeking to operate a marijuana establishment in a county with fewer than two registered nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries. Aside from Cochise, other counties fitting that bill include Apache, Gila, Greenlee, La Paz, Graham, Santa Cruz and Yuma.

The applications for each county will get a turn inside the ping pong ball machine, Elliott said. Each applicant will be assigned a number that corresponds with a ping pong ball.