The board of the directors of the newly formed Southwest Arizona Patient Alliance were introduced to the public in northwest Tucson last week. SWAPA is a program aimed at protecting patient rights as the process to distribute medical marijuana in Arizona moves forward.
Kimberly Haslett, president of SWAPA, called it a grassroots campaign to help prospective patients in need of medical marijuana get through what she called a confusing process.
“I started SWAPA out of just seeing the need for someone to advocate for patients. It’s a labor of love,” she said.
SWAPA consists of seven volunteer board members who attended the April 14 event.
The board members work to educate visitors on the state’s requirements to get a medical marijuana identification card, which costs $150 and has to be renewed annually.
“The application process is very strict,” said Haslett. “You have to have a birth certificate, get fingerprinted and jump through a lot of hoops. It shouldn’t be this hard because it’s being handed out for medical purposes.”
SWAPA took photos and fingerprinted prospective medical marijuana users throughout the two-hour event, but Haslett stressed the problem right now is finding doctors who are willing to step up to prescribe the product.
The Arizona Department of Health Services requires a doctor to fill out a medical marijuana physician certification form before a patient can get approved.
Northwest resident Nancy Tate said she appreciates what SWAPA is trying to do. After being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer on her nose, Tate said she is hoping cannabis (marijuana) oil will help.
The oil would be applied directly to the spot, which is confirmed basal cell carcinoma, instead of being taken orally. Tate said it is the last resort before having to go through surgery.
“I think this is a step in the right direction. There is more to the natural health field than is being addressed,” she said. “This is another step to giving us the ability to use the natural gifts that mother earth gives us. Natural has fewer side effects than so many of those other drugs prescribed.”
In November Arizona voters narrowly passed Proposition 203 to make medical marijuana legal, with 841,346 votes in favor and 837,005 against.
Area resident Frank Rodriguez called the passing of Prop. 203 a relief.
“There are so many people out there who need this,” he said. “It has finally happened. I have been fighting this fight for 45 years. I suffer from stress and chronic pain.”
Rodriguez said he was involved in a motorcycle accident 45 years ago and continues to suffer from the side effects. Most recently, Rodriguez went through ankle-replacement surgery.
Now, the only problem Rodriguez sees is possibly getting kicked out of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System for using medical marijuana. He commended SWAPA for looking out for his and other patients’ rights.
ADHS started accepting applications for qualifying medical marijuana patients on April 14. However, the state agency estimated one in three applications were rejected in the first day because all requirements were not met.
Haslett said SWAPA’s goal is to help patients avoid being rejected.
ADHS is expecting a high volume of applications with the ability to process up to 500 per day. However, prospective patients cannot apply in person or by phone. Applications can only be submitted online at www.azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana.com.
Once a patient is approved by ADHS they will be allowed to have up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana or up to 12 plants at one time.
ADHS will not accept applications for dispensaries until June 1, which means patients will be allowed to grow the plants.
Once dispensaries are open, patients will only be allowed to grow plants on their own if they live 25 miles or more away from the facility.
A public hearing for a dispensary to be opened in Marana is scheduled for April 27.
Medical conditions to qualify for medical marijuana
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Agitation of Alzheimer’s disease
A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or the treatment for a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition that causes:
Cachexia or wasting syndrome
Severe and chronic pain
Seizures, including those characteristics of epilepsy
Severe or persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristics of multiple sclerosis
To apply for a medical marijuana identification card, log on to www.axdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana.com.