Steve Shapiro started Superior Organics because of a friend. He was healthy, young, wildly athletic—one of those guys you suspect might be invincible—until he got cancer and died in his early forties. In the end, one of the few things that provided him any relief was medical marijuana. The experience stuck with Shapiro to such a degree that when the opportunity to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Arizona came up, he knew it was what he wanted to do.
This summer marks three years since medical marijuana dispensaries began opening their doors across Arizona. Superior Organics and Globe’s dispensary, Globe Farmacy, both opened in July 2013 and were among the first round of about 100 dispensaries to be licensed by the state. The licenses were distributed via a state-wide lottery and were dispersed based on geography. In April of this year, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced that it would accept applications for new dispensaries, allocating the additional licenses based on patient density. This is expected to benefit mostly high-population urban areas.
Shapiro saw opening a dispensary in a rural area like Superior as a boon. First, he loves the town, calling Superior “the best kept secret in Arizona.” Because of the limited number of dispensary licenses initially made available by the state, he remembers the lottery process being pretty “cutthroat.” Applying for a license in a rural place like Superior meant the competition was less fierce. Three years in, Shapiro says he has been well accepted in the community. He is involved in the Superior Rotary, is on the board of the Prickly Pear Festival, and is an active member of the Superior Chamber of Commerce.
According to Fernando Shipley, who was on Globe City Council at the time it began looking at the possibility of a dispensary in Globe, the council saw being proactive about bringing a dispensary to Globe as a way of preventing a profusion of individual growers. Arizona law allows patients with medical marijuana cards who do not live within 25 miles of a dispensary to grow up to 12 of their own plants. “Do we want to have 100 pot farms in the Globe-Miami area?” asks Shipley.
Shipley says that instead of dragging its heels, the council sent out a request for proposals (RFP) for folks looking to open a dispensary in Globe. “We said, ‘Hey, we’re OK with it happening, but here’s the deal: we want it to be the way we want it to be,’” remembers Shipley. Arizona state law and the laws in other states that permit the use of medical marijuana are at odds with federal law, meaning medical marijuana use is not protected at the federal level. However, in recent years, memos at the federal level have urged that individual medical marijuana patients are a low priority for federal law enforcement.
Brittney Santos, who has managed the Globe Farmacy since it opened, says that initially, the store’s central location on Broad Street in Globe’s historic downtown was challenging for some patients. “When we first opened, so many people were not wanting to be seen walking in and out. That was one of our biggest hurdles from the beginning—having a storefront that’s right in the heart of downtown,” she says. Santos was sought out to manage the Globe Farmacy because of her background as a pharmacist. She had a pharmacy degree and five years of experience as a pharmacist under her belt when she opened Globe Farmacy. “Now, it works to our advantage,” she says. “People feel more comfortable coming in because it’s not a back alley deal.”
Superior Organics has a similar central location, located right off Highway 60 in Superior.
Shapiro echoes Santos when he talks about some of the misconceptions that people have about dispensaries, acknowledging the prejudice that a dispensary might be “spooky or scary.” Both the Globe and Superior facilities are impeccably clean, and their lobbies are open to the public, yet private once you’re inside. “How we overcame people being nervous about coming in is creating kind of a really comfortable environment for them here,” says Santos.
Both the Globe and Superior dispensaries provide lists of state-recognized doctors in the area who can refer patients to the medical marijuana program. That referral is valid for one year and must be submitted to the state health department to obtain a patient card. The patient card entitles you to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana—or an equivalent amount of other products, like edibles, tinctures, or topicals—every 14 days. Patients can go to any dispensary in the state, and because their patient card is scanned each time they make a purchase, dispensaries can track how much each patient purchases.
Shapiro is also happy to address misconceptions about the medicine itself. For example, he says patients do not have to smoke marijuana to get relief. “Topicals don’t impair you at all,” says Shapiro of lotions and oils that utilize marijuana’s pain-relieving capabilities. Another misconception that Shapiro has encountered is that if you use medical marijuana, you’ll just get really high and go to sleep. Just like any other medicine, dosage is important. Shapiro is adamant that marijuana is an exit drug, not a gateway drug. “We give patients, most often, much safer and healthier alternatives,” to prescription painkillers, for example, he says.
Santos explains how the dispensary works with patients to ensure that unwanted side-effects like “getting really high and going to sleep” don’t happen. Santos encourages new patients in particular to keep log books to keep track of how the medicine is affecting them, so they can adjust accordingly. “It’s kind of like a marijuana diary, tracking everything that you’re using. You record what you’re using, where your pain level is at before you medicate, whether you’re at a 7 or a 10, and then you can write where it brought you down to if it worked. The positives and negatives that you felt … maybe it made you too drowsy or it made you feel too hungry. All of these side-effects can be controlled by just getting you on the right product for yourself,” says Santos.
“It’s really rewarding to see people try new things, and it’s really rewarding to see the people who are so scared and skeptical come in and get relief,” says Santos. “And that’s what brings them back. They’re being provided something that works.”
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Edible Baja Arizona, Modern Farmer, Punch, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. Her first book, Beyond Canning was published in February 2016.