Business booming for Tucson medical marijuana dispensaries - Tucson News Now

Business booming for Tucson medical marijuana dispensaries

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It's been almost a year since the first medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in Tucson.  Dispensary owners and staff who call themselves "bud-tenders" said while business has been booming, that has also posed to be a challenge.

Vicky Puchi-Saavedra, owner of Earth's Healing that is located on Benson Highway, told Tucson News Now it's been a challenge to find good quality product.

Strict zoning laws in the city of Tucson, along with towns unwilling to let those with cultivation licence's open up marijuana farms in their communities has led dispensary owners scrambling to find good quality medical marijuana to meet the demand.

Puchi-Saavedra says dispensary owners are working with each other, and relying on care-givers who can donate product to the dispensaries to make sure they have enough medicine for their patients.  Contrary to our earlier report that stated dispensary owners are getting medicine from out of state, Puchi-Saavedra clarified that they can only get their medicine by local care-givers and growers.

Her  dispensary has only been open for six months but she already has 1,500 patients registered.  Majority of them need medical marijuana for pain, and would rather ingest medical marijuana than take opiates like Methadone or Oxycontin.

Puchi-Saavedra said to try and meet some of the demand she has invested a lot of money and opened a cultivation site at an undisclosed location in Tucson.

Our cameras were not allowed inside as the facility needs to be kept dark, but Saavedra did release pictures of the high-tech, sophisticated grow operation to Tucson News Now.

"The plants are looking beautiful.  We invested money because we wanted to have more pure medicine for patients with higher dosages." said Puchi-Saavedra.

We also spoke to patients who were extremely relieved to see medical marijuana clinics open their doors.

Card holder Bob Cherry applied for a card to deal with back and leg pain from injuries sustained while he was in the military.

"I've been down the opiate highway before, and I choose not to go there again."

Cherry said opiates like Methadone and other narcotics made him suffer bad side effects, and medical marijuana was a better option for him.  What bothered him was the price of the product sold at dispensaries.

While it was high quality product, Cherry said insurance did not cover the costs, and he also had to pay $150 a year to renew his medical marijuana card.

"I'm retired.  I am a disabled veteran.  I don't have the money to pay the prices at dispensaries."

Puchi-Saavedra said they had strains of medicine that cost less for patients who were financially strapped, but agreed, the medical marijuana card fees should be lowered to make access easier for patients.

Many of her patients who had legitimate cards used to buy medical marijuana off the streets.  Cherry said, if the prices stayed at this level, he too would have to turn to the "black market" for his meds.

"You're not going to get Johnny Walker Black, you'll get Johnny Walker red but absolutely yes. I would buy it off the black market.  I'm waiting for them to legalize it so the cartels can open up duty free stores across the border, and I can walk there, purchase what I need, and walk back.  Just like a $28 carton of cigarettes," said Cherry.

In the upcoming year, dispensary owners said they planned to lobby the state, cities, and counties to ease up on zoning restrictions so more cultivation sites could sprout up throughout Arizona.

Dispensary owners also said we can expect to see those diagnosed with depression or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome have access to medical marijuana.

Dispensaries have been heavily regulated with strict government control.  Puchi-Saavedra said the state just conducted a four hour audit at Earth's healing.  Inspectors could also conduct unannounced visits and look at records. 

William Elliot, operations director at Earth's Healing said every gram and every ounce had to be accounted for.

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