Cave Creek struggles through first read of medical marijuana ordinance

Arizona Department of Health issues 92 pages of regulations
marlene pontrelliLast Thursday, Town Attorney Marlene Pontrelli told the planning commission that municipalities throughout the state were struggling, just as they were, with many of the same issues regarding the new medical marijuana law. 
CAVE CREEK – Town Attorney Marlene Pontrelli, after attending the March 31 planning commission meeting, discovered some commissioners were interested in stricter regulations regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities, whereas, on Monday, town council, sought to limit restrictions.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Reg Monachino questioned staff’s placement of dispensaries and cultivation facilities under the category of “Offices, Services and Research” and suggested it would be more appropriate to place the use under “Adult Services,” which requires a 2,000-foot setback from a variety of other uses.

Planning Director Ian Cordwell said the issue with adult uses is they are considered sexually oriented.

Cordwell showed the commission maps of what 2,000-foot and 1,000-foot setbacks from schools, churches, libraries and parks would allow in the town core and stated it would virtually zone the use out of the town core.

He then showed the commission a map of the recommended 200-foot setback.

Commissioner Rae Iverson said she researched California’s law and found “cannabis clubs” have cropped up all over the place.

She said over 80 cities are trying to ban the use, there is a great deal of crime reportedly associated with the use, and stated towns have had to increase their police forces to deal with it.

Iverson said she was concerned about bringing crime and that sort of lifestyle to the area.
She also stated THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is already available by prescription, questioning why there is a need for special marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities.
Chairman Baxley explained his understanding of how the law worked and said if a patient lives 25 miles or more from a dispensary, they and/or their caregiver would be able to grow their own marijuana.

douglas crane
Douglas Crane
Commissioner Shelley Anderson questioned whether the use should require a special use permit rather than just a site plan review.

During public comment, Tonto Hills resident Douglas Crane stated medical marijuana was not an adult use and would be available for children who are considered qualified patients.

He also stated California was cracking down on unauthorized dispensaries and closing down facilities that are not licensed.

However, he cautioned, “If you don’t allow them, you’ll have people growing all over the place.”
joseph butler
Joseph Butler

Joseph Butler, a Colorado resident, said he was an advocate of the medical marijuana law and stated, “We’ve not seen the crime in Colorado as they’ve had in California.”

He said his father was diagnosed with colon cancer and then mentioned numerous members of his family that were diagnosed with various other forms of cancer.

Butler clarified state statute requires dispensaries and cultivation facilities to be located at least 500 feet from schools.

Commissioner John Ford said it wasn’t their decision to determine whether or not they agreed with the law, they were there to deal with an ordinance to accommodate the use.

During Monday’s council meeting, Pontrelli stated the ordinance brought forward was the result of comments from the planning commission and council.

Pontrelli provided council with a fact sheet she had put together explaining the major provisions of the new law.

She said the department of health had just come out with 92 pages of regulations and, although she has not read the entire 92 pages, she reviewed them to make sure the ordinance would not violate state regulations.

She said the ordinance contained the basics but was flexible in the event the town needed to make amendments.

Councilman Mozilo questioned how someone qualifies to be designated a caregiver.

Pontrelli said there was an application process through the department of health, which is tasked with doing background checks and issuing a caregiver card to those who qualify.

Mozilo questioned the 500-foot setback versus the 200-foot setback.

Pontrelli explained the 500 feet would apply to existing schools, whereas the 200-foot setback would be for new schools.

Mozilo questioned why the ordinance didn’t say that.

Pontrelli stated they could certainly change it to say that but the ordinance already says it must comply with state law so if the law changes, they wouldn’t need to change the ordinance.

Councilman Adam Trenk wanted to know why they were requiring caregivers to obtain business licenses and home occupation permits, stating it seemed obsessive.

Pontrelli said it was a means for the town to know who the designated caregivers are in town. For example, if someone complained about someone growing marijuana, the town marshal would be able to determine whether or not the person was a designated caregiver.
She said they are hoping Department of Public Safety will provide a list of caregivers within each municipality.

Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch asked why they were regulating distance between dispensaries and cultivation locations when statute only allows one per 25 miles.

Pontrelli said that may be the law now but it could change.

Bunch then asked why they were requiring compliance with federal law, “since we’re thumbing our nose at federal law, which still considers marijuana a controlled substance.”

When Mayor Vincent Francia asked if the 200-foot setback worked in reverse, whereas someone might want to locate a school on property within 200 feet from a dispensary, Pontrelli responded, “Yes.”

Francia was troubled that it infringed on the adjacent owner’s property rights.

He also asked if they could require caregivers to grow in a separate building on their property rather than in their residence.

During public comment, John Soderburg, a county island resident who introduced himself as a potential dispensary operator and caregiver, said the 25-mile caregiver rule no longer applied unless the caregiver was also a patient.

He also said, with the 200-foot setback, other than Frontier Town, he couldn’t find any other real estate in the town core where a dispensary could locate.

“The clock is ticking to file,” said Soderburg, pointing out the zoning must be in place at the time an application is submitted.

Town Manager Usama Abujbarah said they didn’t have to have a 200-foot setback but stated if they wanted to restrict the use to general commercial zoning it would disallow the use except for the Bullington property on the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway.

He also agreed with Trenk regarding amending the 200-foot setback to pertain to existing uses only. However, if council felt 200 feet was too restrictive, it could go to 100 feet or get rid of the setback requirement altogether.

Councilman Jim Bruce said he would like to see the use be allowed in both commercial core and general commercial zoning.

Mozilo requested a reduction in the setback to 100 feet and asked staff for a map reflecting a 100-foot setback for the second reading.

With Councilman Steve LaMar absent, the ordinance passed the first reading, as amended, by a vote of 5-1 with Councilman Dick Esser dissenting.