AZ: Phoenix Neighbors Sue Volunteer City Board Over Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Photo Credit: David Horemans

Two neighbors who live near a recently-approved medical marijuana dispensary are suing the Phoenix volunteer board that cleared the way for the facility to open.

The Phoenix Board of Adjustment overturned a prior city decision in April, allowing the dispensary to open near 16th Street and Glendale Avenue despite its proximity to  multiple neighborhoods and two places of worship.

Helen Houser and Julie Karasek, who live in one of those neighborhoods, are appealing the board’s decision in Maricopa County Superior Court. They allege the board did not impartially review the case.

This is the second time in the past month that the obscure board that handles zoning disputes has faced scrutiny.

In May, former Mayor Greg Stanton replaced a majority of the board members after accusations surfaced of questionable tactics occurring under their watch.

Signature allegations ignored

The neighbors in their lawsuit claim that when they presented the Board of Adjustment with evidence that the marijuana dispensary submitted forged and falsified petitions of support in April, the board members ignored them.

Representatives for Mitchell Song, who applied to open the dispensary on his North Central property, submitted 146 petition signatures in support of the facility, according to court documents.

Houser and Karasek collected affidavits from more than two dozens residents who said they did not sign the petitions that bore their name or address, according to court records.

The two were unable to locate many other people listed on the petitions and some of the addresses listed did not exist, according to their lawsuit.

“During the hearing, several of the (board) members expressed strong opposition to hearing any opposition to the (dispensary) and were highly resistant to admitting (the neighbors’) evidence at all — including the existence of fraud — while remaining exceedingly solicitous of (the dispensary attorney’s) presentation and deferring to him in nearly every respect,” the complaint said.

The Arizona Republic published an investigation in May that showed this dispensary case and three others in the past three months involved the same group of lobbyists and community outreach personnel.

When that group worked for the dispensary, the Board of Adjustment granted the needed approvals. When the same group worked against dispensaries, the board denied approvals.

“As these cases have come to light, the veracity and impartiality of the (Board of Adjustment) has been called into serious question,” the neighbors’ complaint said.

Phoenix is investigating

Following The Republic investigation, the city confirmed it is investigating the allegations in these cases.

“The city has not been formally served with the complaint filed by Ms. Houser and Ms. Karasek. But we have seen the complaint, and we are investigating their concerns expressed in prior filings with the Board of Adjustment. We need more time to complete that investigation. Any comment at this time would be premature,” Phoenix spokesman Nickolas Valenzuela said in a statement.

Larry Lazarus, who represented Song before the Board of Adjustment, said his client also has not been served with the lawsuit.

Lazarus declined to comment on the case, saying he will not be involved with this lawsuit as he is not a litigation attorney.