PHOENIX, AZ — Police in Phoenix raided the second business suspected of selling medical marijuana in just a week, arresting the owner of the Vapor Lounge compassion club, which police say was operating illegally as an unlicensed medical marijuana dispensary on Thursday night.
Bill Hayes, 38, was charged with suspicion of controlling an illegal enterprise, marijuana possession for sale and narcotics possession for sale, Phoenix Police Sgt. Steve Martos said Friday.
The Vapor Lounge is located in a strip mall next to the Paraphernalia Boutique, but does not have any exterior signage and is not licensed by the Arizona Department of Public Health to sell medical marijuana.
“We understand that this particular location was similar to a bar. Customers would come in and pay a donation,” said Sgt. Martos. According to police, customers gave donations to the Vapor Lounge in exchange for medical marijuana edibles and other products containing THC.
Bobby Price, who said he is the volunteer general manager for the Vapor Lounge but was not arrested, says that the business was not doing anything wrong.
“We offer a safe environment for people to come medicate,” says Price, adding that medical marijuana patients either bring their own cannabis to the Vapor Lounge or order from a nearby, licensed dispensary who then delivers the marijuana to the patient.
“It’s being delivered here, so it is being sold inside our establishment but not by us,” said Price.
Just a week earlier, police arrested three owners of a business that was allegedly selling medical marijuana but did not have a valid business license or a state-issued medical marijuana dispensary permit. All three men face charges for illegally controlling an enterprise and possession of marijuana for sale, and two of the men also face gun charges.
Unregulated compassion clubs are not allowed under Arizona’s 2010 voter approved medical marijuana law, but many opened throughout the state during the two years between the law taking effect and the Department of Public Health implementing the program.
Under Arizona law, non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries must be licensed by the Arizona Department of Public Health. Compassion clubs typically do not sell marijuana to patients, but provide marijuana in exchange for a “suggested donation.”
Earlier this year, several state licensed medical marijuana dispensaries asked authorities to crackdown on the unlicensed compassion clubs. Dispensary owners, medical marijuana patients, and advocates asked that police, prosecutors and legislators target the unregulated clubs so patients receive their medication in a controlled and secure environment.