City Preparing For Medical Marijuana
With the Arizona Department of Health ( ADHS ) nearing the end of the study that will officially legalize medical marijuana by April, Arizona cities and counties are quickly working to approve zoning regulations.
The Benson City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission held a joint session last week, discussing how to move forward with regulating medical marijuana distribution and use inside city limits.
Arizona residents approved Proposition 203 in November that will allow the use of medical marijuana.
Arizona entities have to prepare for the passage, as ADHS finalizes state regulations for the new law.
Mayor Mark Fenn opened the meeting joking, "Who would have ever thought we would be meeting to discuss where to sell marijuana in Benson."
Michelle Johnson, Planning Technician of the city, explained ADHS had 120 days to set regulations for the law, and will start accepting applications in April. Use will be legal in May.
According to ADHS, a dispensary, a caregiver or the actual patient will be allowed to grow marijuana fur medical use.
Giving the two boards some background, Johnson said state regulations will allow a qualifying patient to grow up to 12 plants at home if they live more than 25 miles from a legal dispensary.
A caregiver can have five patients under their care, meaning they can grow up to 60 plants at a time at home.
The state can have up 124 dispensaries, or one in every 10 registered pharmacies in the states.
Johnson explained that ADHS has 126 community health analysis areas, which were set up in 2005, with Benson's area covering the entire San Pedro Valley and north to the Cochise County line.
"It is a fairly large area," Johnson said. "According to the most recent rules, ( ADHS ) is expecting one dispensary for each area, meaning Benson should have one. We are preparing for deciding where to go, and how to do that in the coming weeks."
The main issues are to set regulations for dispensaries, and what the facilities housing marijuana plants will require.
There can be no onsite use or consumption at the dispensaries, and marijuana cannot be grown or sold within 500 feet of a school.
While the state has only addressed school districts, Johnson said local officials must decide whether or not they want more regulations on growing and sales within 500 feet of churches, rehabilitation centers and other places of worship.
Johnson said security issues will also have to be explored. Police Chief Paul Moncada expressed a number of concerns about protection of plants inside a dispensary if one were to be established inside city limits.
Johnson seemed confident that a dispensary would submit an application to build inside Benson city limits. The city is inside the community health area, and dispensaries will want to build in the most populated parts of the designated area.
Johnson and Building Official Luis Garcia said they need fast direction from the City Council in order to have codes in place before applications start being approved by the state.
Some of the questions to be answered are whether or not the product can be produced and sold in a business or industrial district and whether or not it will be allowed at all in residential areas.
Off-site cultivation has to also be considered, Johnson explained. Any cultivation site has to be approved to sell to a specific dispensary. Marijuana cannot be grown, and then sold to a third party. A contract with a specific dispensary has to be in place before the product can legally be grown.
"If we do nothing, the only guidelines would be state regulations," Johnson said.
City Attorney Michael Massee said the council will also have to consider the sales tax issues, because right now medical marijuana would not be subject to city taxes.
The city will have to investigate possible fees to charge businesses wanting to come to Benson. This could involve sales taxes, occupational taxes or impact fees that would help regulate who operates in the city, Massee said.
After nearly an hour-long discussion, staff was directed to write some regulations that would be proposed and possibly approved during the March 28 council meeting.
NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: San Pedro Valley News-Sun (AZ)
Copyright: 2011 Benson News Sun
Website: San Pedro Valley News-Sun | Benson, Arizona
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Author: Thelma Grimes