TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Changes are coming next month for medical marijuana users.
Starting Dec. 1, the medical marijuana application process is changing. Cards are going digital and the most urgent step patients and caregivers need to take is to ensure their primary email address is updated.
Colby Bower, assistant director for the Department of Health Services, said the changes come from recent legislation, SB 1494, that went into effect in June 2019.
“We’ve been looking at this for a couple of years now,” Bower said. “And currently with the number of medical marijuana patients we’re issuing about 1,200 cards a day. And by our own rules we have to process those in five days so it becomes a lot of work.”
Bower said patients were notified via email of the upcoming switch, reminding them to make sure their email is up to date.
This will also make the process of getting a card easier. Instead of having to wait 2-3 weeks for it to be mailed, you’ll have access as soon as your application is approved.
However, there's some confusion around cards patients currently have.
Bower said current medical marijuana cards are valid until they expires. Due to SB 1494, cards renewed after Aug. 27 are valid for two years. Prior to that, cards are valid for a year.
After cards expire, patients need to obtain a digital card. New patients who apply for cards starting Dec. 1 will automatically receive digital cards.
Bower said this launch is really phase one of digitizing the process. You will be able to pull up the email from your phone or screenshot a picture of your digital card.
Dispensaries like Downtown Dispensary on Sixth Street are already preparing for the change. Adriana Tysenn, director of compliance and education with Downtown Dispensary said patients will still need to provide further documentation to receive their medicine.
“The front desk will then scan that copy and we’ll then take a second form of ID so whether that be an Arizona drivers license, state ID, passport, any government official ID we will require when checking that patient in,” she said.
The transition sounds seamless, especially for digital natives. But Mike Robinette, director of NORML, a national group that works to reform marijuana laws, is concerned older patients may feel limited, since nearly 50,000 cardholders in Arizona are 60 -years-old or older.
“I worry that it could discourage them from being in the program they could say well, I don’t know—I can’t deal with this technology," Robinette said.
Bower said that the department did recognize that not everyone may have access to a smartphone. Which is why they allow you to print out the digital card in your own home.
But, even if you don’t have a printer, Tysenn said The Downtown Dispensary will have a solution.
“Not all patients have access to a smartphone or a computer so we will be setting up a station within our lobby for patients to be able to print out a digital copy of their card to give to the front desk,” Tysenn said.
However, Robinette has other concerns that dispensaries can’t fix.
“What happens if I have my digital card on my phone, my phone dies, and I don’t have a battery charger and just a confluence of unfortunate events occur and I get pulled over. And let’s say I have a quarter ounce of medicine in my car," Robinette said. “That is a legitimate concern relative to law enforcement and carrying our cards because our cards do allow us to carry medication.”
Bower said the department encourages everyone to print out a copy of their card and keep it on them in case of any unforeseen circumstances.