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Marana to craft rules restricting dispensing of medical marijuana

September 23, 2010

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By Dave Perry, The Explorer

Marana does not want to encourage medical marijuana distribution and cultivation within its town limits, and the town council has directed Attorney Frank Cassidy to move forward with restrictive zoning regulations ahead of the Nov. 2 vote on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

If the act, Proposition 203, is approved by voters Nov. 2, it would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Arizona, with at least one marijuana dispensary in every county, and one dispensary for every 10 state-registered pharmacies. Qualifying patients living more than 25 miles from a dispensary would be able to grow up to 12 marijuana plants for their personal use.

Cassidy explained that, in anticipation of potential voter approval, the City of Tucson and Pima County have prepared zoning regulations regarding medical marijuana. He recommended similar pre-emptive action in Marana.

“As a staff, our concern is if we didn’t prepare ourselves as well in time for possible passage of the act,” Marana might be seen “as a preferred location for dispensaries, since we didn’t have any regulations,” he told the town council Sept. 14.

Cassidy had to persuade several skeptical council members that the crafting of regulations would not actually encourage medical marijuana dispensaries within the town limits. He wants to bring proposed zoning regulations to the planning commission on Sept. 29, and have them before the town council “as soon as practicable.

“All initiatives are effective as soon as the governor issues a proclamation related to the vote,” Cassidy said. That can be several weeks after an election. If it is passed, the act itself gives communities 120 days to adopt regulations related to medical marijuana, he said.

“Speaking personally, I am dead set against this thing, and hope it doesn’t pass,” Mayor Ed Honea said. “Maybe we should pass a resolution not to allow them in town.”

Honea was not sure zoning regulations for medical marijuana were a good idea, thinking they may encourage dispensaries.

“If we pass something, it’s like we’re expecting it to pass,” he said.

“This is not the time to be a forerunner,” Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler agreed. “If it does pass, then we’ll take care of it.”

Cassidy persisted.

“I wouldn’t want to take that risk,” he said. “If we’re lagging behind, we might miss our opportunity to have regulations in place.”

Cassidy is “certainly not getting on the bandwagon of being permissive about this. We’re trying to be as regulating as possible. If we’re not, we have only the state law to back us up.”

State law would allow each dispensary to have one offsite location for marijuana cultivation. Dispensaries and growing facilities would not be allowed within 500 feet of a school. “There is far less regulation than we would recommend,” Cassidy said. “We’re better off limiting what zones they can go in, and making them a conditional use.”

“I’m all for that,” Ziegler said. “Maybe I don’t understand. Why are we worrying about that now? I’m all ready to do whatever you want to do, but I’m not ready to do it until the darn thing passes.”

“If we don’t take the time to put something in place, the risk is we will have dispensaries open up,” and will have lost the ability to regulate them, Cassidy said.

Councilman Jon Post said his brother, an attorney in Montana, reports medical marijuana dispensers who opened shop after voters passed a medical marijuana measure are now suing local governments that subsequently kicked them out but had no regulations in place beforehand.

“A little bit of effort on our part could go a long way,” Post said. “We need to do it right now.”

“Staff has done a great job being proactive, getting out in front” of such issues, Councilman Russell Clanagan said. “This is another example of it. If we don’t get out in front of this, and it passes, we can’t come along after and try to restrict it. If we miss this opportunity, then we’re going to have to live with whatever happens.”

“If looks like everyone wants you to move forward,” Honea told Cassidy. “I would ask you to be as restrictive as you possibly can.”

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