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As Arizona prepares to become the 15th state allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, Valley business owners are having mixed feelings about dispensaries opening near their stores.

The Phoenix store Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona set up shop this fall in anticipation of the passage of Proposition 203 — Arizona’s citizen-drafted medical marijuana measure that was approved by voters Nov. 2. The dispensary is the first store of its kind in the state.

But Debra Nehs, owner of the nearby business Kidding Around Playtown, is not pleased that the store has come so close to her business.

“We run a children’s play place and we’ve already had a few customers express concern that it’s over there,” she said. “I was just surprised that that’s where it opened up.”

Proposition 203 makes it legal for Arizonans with certain illnesses to be prescribed medical marijuana. After a close vote count following the Nov. 2 election, the measure passed by about 4,300 votes, or less than 0.25 percent of ballots cast.

Other dispensaries have started to pop up in the Valley, like the Arizona Patients Association in Phoenix and Blue Monkey Apothecary in Gilbert.

Allan Sobol, the manager of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, said in a Nov. 4 interview with The State Press that finding a location to open up was not easy.

“Corporate America still is resistant to this,” he said. “We checked into a lot of locations, but they were resistant.”

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries of Arizona is located near Interstate 17 and Bell Road in a shopping center that is home to a variety of businesses.

The majority of the complex’s storefronts, however, are now displaying “For Lease” signs in their windows, said Sherri Collins, a storeowner in the shopping center.

Collins is one of the owners of Other Mothers, a children’s, women’s and maternity clothing exchange store. Collins said while she voted against the medical marijuana proposition, she is looking forward to possible increased shopping traffic the dispensary will bring.

“It’s very sad to see how many ‘For Lease’ signs are in the windows around us,” she said. “It’ll be good to see the space occupied and people working and coming in and out.”

State Press Television By Mauro Whiteman

Lynn Morrison Company, the managers of Bell Canyon Pavilions, was unavailable for comment.

Collins said while her business tends to do well in hard times, the added foot traffic in the area will benefit her store the same way the complex’s movie theater does.

“We get a lot of business from the theater,” she said. “The dispensary is going to help business, it can’t not.”

Mary Jo Angle, shift and training manager from Other Mothers, said in her 10 years working at the store, she has seen many other businesses come and go, but she’s still against the dispensary.

“I’m totally against it; I just feel we’re making [marijuana] so much easier to get,” Angle said. “It’s a moral question. I don’t think it’s a good thing when we have so many children around here.”

Other Mothers customer Cecilia Jallo shops at the store often and said she intends to continue doing so.

She said she would continue shopping there as long as the atmosphere of the shopping center didn’t change.

“But I would hope it wasn’t an issue because it’s for medical use,” she said.

Entrepreneur Mike Wells is a partial owner in a window washing company and in a horticulture product supply company, and said he plans to open his own medical marijuana dispensary because it benefits patients and is an untapped market.

“We’re contacting construction companies, marketing companies, lighting companies, security companies, glass companies, all sorts of companies that any person who would be starting a business would have to reach out to,” Wells said. “It’s benefiting everyone economically.”

He said dispensary owners, marijuana cultivators and caregivers will be in need of the various products that go along with owning a business.

“This industry, especially in Arizona … will help support this economy and it will put us back on our feet,” he said. “There is money to be made because it’s an untapped market.”

Mark Stapp, executive director of the Master of Real Estate Development Program at ASU, where professors educate students in the practices of real estate development, acknowledged that the commercial real estate market is going through a difficult time, but it is unlikely medical marijuana dispensaries will help.

“In general, unrelated to medical marijuana, the commercial real estate market is very difficult,” Stapp said. “But my guess is [dispensaries are] not going to make a huge difference at all, there’s just not a lot of stores opening.”

Proposition 203 limits the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to about 120 in the entire state and also puts restrictions on where they can be located.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has begun to draft guidelines for implementation of the law, with the initial draft of the rules expected to be released Dec. 17. ADHS plans to begin accepting dispensary applications in April 2011.

Wells said he will be ready to apply for his license when that happens.

“We’re making contacts so that when the Department of Health Services comes out with the application we are ready to go,” he said.

Business owner Nehs said she’s uncertain what effect the dispensary will have on her business.

“I don’t think anyone is sure what it’s going to bring, what kind of clientele or what kind of activity over there,” she said. “It’s a pretty big unknown and we’re not sure whether it will harm our business or not.”

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