PHOENIX Some local wags are calling it the "Wal-Mart of Weed" or "Home DePot."
Seeking to capitalize on Arizona's newly enacted medical marijuana law, a California-based company on Wednesday opened a superstore-sized garden center in Phoenix catering to those who want to grow their own cannabis.
"We sell everything but the plant itself," said Dhar Mann, founder of weGrow, the company that began franchising its big-box stores with outlets in Oakland and Sacramento, California. "We sell the products and the services for people to safely and responsibly cultivate their medicine."
The 21,000-square-foot store offers some 2,000 products, including soil, grow lights and irrigation trays, specially designed for effective marijuana growing, Mann told Reuters.
A doctor also is on site to furnish eligible patients the initial medical approval needed to apply to the state health department for cards authorizing them to legally grow and use marijuana as treatment for a variety of qualifying ailments.
Alluding to some of America's leading big-box chains, the company's own press materials describe the weGrow franchise as the "Wal-Mart of Weed," while various media reports have referred to it as "Home DePot."
The store's opening came on the same day that Arizona was to have begun accepting applications from individuals seeking one of 125 permits the state plans to grant for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. But that process was put on hold last week.
On Friday, the state went to federal court seeking to clarify whether its citizens were at risk of federal prosecution for participating in activities sanctioned under Arizona's medical marijuana act, passed by voters in November.
Arizona is the 16th state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes.
But Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, warned in a letter to state health officials last month that the cultivation, sale and distribution of cannabis, classified by the U.S. government as an illegal narcotic, remains a federal crime.
Since April, state officials have been accepting applications from patients and caregivers looking to grow and use marijuana for medical purposes.
Figures show that 3,696 people have obtained cards allowing them to possess and grow marijuana for a range of medical issues, chronic pain chief among them. Males account for more than 75 percent of those approved.
Mann said his Oakland-based company has big expansion plans for Arizona and nationwide as it looks to tap into what some have estimated to be a market worth billions of dollars.
He said the next franchise store will open in the District of Columbia in July, with additional outlets slated for Denver, Detroit and possibly Los Angeles by the end of August.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)