PHOENIX - It isn't even legal yet. And it won't be unless voters approve.
But more than a dozen companies are setting up shop in Arizona in hopes of getting into the business of selling marijuana.
It's become a land rush of sorts.
That's because the initiative, if passed, will permit 120 dispensaries in the entire state. Each one can grow an unlimited amount of marijuana on site and at one additional location, but cannot cultivate it within 500 feet of a school.
The Arizona law requires that dispensaries be set up as nonprofit corporations. But that isn't deterring would be dealers who hope to get one of those 120 licenses.
Among the first in line is Allan Sobol. He's been hired by Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona, one of 15 firms to file the necessary paperwork with the Arizona Corporation Commission, to get the business up and running and help clear any legal hurdles.
"The company that gets the jump-start on this and gets the mailing list of the potential patients is going to be the No. 1 dispensary in Arizona for the future," Sobol said. "We decided to go after it."
The company he works for is actually already open for business, though there isn't any marijuana to sell.
The firm's website is signing up prospective buyers as well as doctors who might be interested in referring patients.
"We call it pre-emptive marketing," he said.
With preregistration on the website, he said, "Once the law passes, we'll provide you with information on how to get your (medical-marijuana) card."
In soliciting doctors, Sobol is working both sides of the equation.
Proposition 203, if approved, would allow those with a state-issued card to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks - 10 to 21 marijuana cigarettes a day depending on potency. Getting the marijuana will require a patient to get a written recommendation from a doctor who is supposed to do a "full assessment" of that person's medical history.
Sobol that should make Arizona different from California, where dispensaries advertise they can get a doctor's certification on-site. But he said some people will still need a referral, so he mailed about 10,000 Arizona doctors information about the initiative and about the company and asked if they would recommend their patients.
He said "several" already have responded, although he won't name names until Proposition 203 becomes law.
Legislative budget staffers predict 39,600 Arizonans are likely to have the medical-marijuana cards by 2013, with another 26,400 people licensed as "caregivers," who can buy the drug for someone else.
Campaign-finance reports show $640,523 in donations, most from the national Marijuana Policy Project supporting the initiative. Foes, operating as Keep Arizona Drug Free, had collected just $6,685 as of the latest report.
Vocal opposition to the initiative is coming largely from law enforcement and prosecutors, including Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Both said they see this as a first step to legalizing the drug for everyone and fear it will increase crime in neighborhoods and give fuel to drug cartels. In California, LaWall says, the DEA has found that marijuana originating from Mexico has been sold in dispensaries, and West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran has said that some collectives there get their marijuana from the cartels.
Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said there probably are some people, like those who have nausea from chemotherapy and individuals who need an appetite stimulant to keep from wasting away, who would benefit from medical marijuana. But he said there are also likely to be abuses by people who just want legal access to marijuana and doctors who may be less than attentive to what will really help their patients.