At least four Arizona cities have passed ordinances regulating the zoning requirements of medical marijuana dispensaries, and other cities are following suit.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, passed as Proposition 203 by Arizona voters in November, allows towns to establish “reasonable regulations” in regard to the placement and operation of dispensaries and cultivators.
Some cities, like Phoenix, will be adopting ordinances in the next few weeks. Tempe is expected to release a proposal of its ordinance this week, before its Development Review Commission Hearing on Dec. 14.
The medical marijuana law states the Arizona Department of Health Services, the agency in charge of licensing dispensaries and implementing the law, has 120 days from the time the election was certified on Nov. 29 to come up with rules and regulations for the law’s application.
ADHS plans to begin accepting applications for dispensary licenses and medical marijuana prescriptions in April 2011.
The Arizona League of Cities and Towns, an organization for Arizona municipalities, created a draft ordinance in early October to help cities create their own restrictions, said the group’s executive director, Ken Strobeck.
“The role of the league is to help the cities and towns with consistency [in policy],” Strobeck said. “It’s a complicated topic, so it’s important to have a consensus. We wanted to construct a framework for how they construct their ordinance.”
The model leaves blanks for cities and towns to specify what distance dispensaries can be from schools, other dispensaries and churches, as well as the square footage of the shops, among other factors.
Phoenix’s planning commission will consider the proposed ordinance on Wednesday. It will then go to the city council for approval on Dec. 15, said Debra Stark, the director of the city’s planning and development services.
“We worked with the League of Cities and Towns, but Phoenix is the one that actually drafted it,” Stark said.
Phoenix’s ordinance would categorize the medical marijuana dispensaries into three types: grow facilities, which will be located in agricultural or industrial zones; infusion facilities that incorporate marijuana into food, which be located in industrial districts; and the actual dispensaries or sellers, which would be in commercial areas.
Oro Valley, Tucson, Marana and Globe have all passed ordinances, some as early as October.
Frank Cassidy, attorney for the town of Marana, located between Casa Grande and Tucson, said the town’s ordinance was passed on Oct. 19 so they would be ready if the law passed.
“We wanted to make sure it would go into effect at the same time as the medical marijuana law,” Cassidy said. “We didn’t want the law to go into effect first and then have some delay before the effect of our ordinance.”
Marana has a 30-day delay between the passage of an ordinance and its implementation.
Cassidy said Marana had modeled its ordinance after one passed by Pima County, which includes Tucson, Marana, Sahuarita and Oro Valley.
“Ours is going to mirror Pima County word for word,” said Mary Davis, spokeswoman for Oro Valley.
The medical marijuana law states that in order to become a licensed dispensary, grower or infuser of medical marijuana, the applicant must comply with the zoning standards of the city or town he or she will be located in.
If the law had gone into effect before a city or town’s ordinance was in place, the Arizona Department of Health Services, could possibly approve dispensaries where the city or town had not wanted them, said Rodney Campbell, a spokesperson for the town of Marana.
“We knew there was a possibility that voters would pass it, and we didn’t want to get stuck flat-footed,” Campbell said. “Dispensaries could gain a foothold in those communities, and at that point you’re playing catch-up.”
Mitchell Love, CEO of North Valley Herbal Health Center Inc., a potential marijuana dispensary, wants to open his own medical marijuana dispensary in the north Valley. Love said he approves of cities and towns regulating their location.
“As long as it’s not getting overregulated to the point where they have to travel to the seedier areas of town in order to fill their prescriptions, I have no problem with cities regulating it,” Love said. “I have no problem with the distances from schools or churches, but my biggest concern is being able to put together [a dispensary] application with the best chances of being approved.”
A 21-year sufferer of Crohn’s disease, Love said he hopes his company can be an advocate in the community for patients in need.
“My interest is more than the business opportunity with this,” he said. “It’s something that affects me personally, and I really want to keep our business above board and cater to the people who are using [medical marijuana] for the right reasons.”
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