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Gilbert Medical-Marijuana Future in Limbo After Lawsuit

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With Arizona's medical-marijuana-dispensary program on hold and no town regulations in place for smaller "caregiver" growing operations, Gilbert officials say they have no way of knowing who in town may be legally growing pot - or where.

Town officials approached the Planning Commission on Wednesday seeking approval of new rules for marijuana cultivation, but the panel put off a decision until July, citing a need for more research.

Nearly 150 Gilbert residents have applied for medical-marijuana-patient cards, allowing them to consume marijuana for treatment of conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, nausea and muscle spasms.

Of 4,543 patient applications statewide, the Department of Health Services has approved 96.6 percent and denied one, according to a DHS report. The remainder are still being processed.

More than 70 percent of patient applicants have also requested to grow marijuana for personal use.

DHS has also approved more than 100 caregiver applications, which allow a person to grow marijuana for up to five patients who live more than 25 miles away from a dispensary.

State law requires that marijuana cultivation take place inside an "enclosed, locked facility" or a secure outdoor space surrounded by 10-foot high walls, town officials told the Planning Commission.

But municipalities have the right to restrict where caregivers and dispensaries can locate cultivation sites.

The Town Council in January approved zoning restrictions on dispensaries, but the town has no rules in place for caregivers, meaning they can grow at home without the approval or knowledge of the town, officials said.

Town code limits dispensaries to light-industrial areas and imposes separation distances from parks, schools, churches and residential areas. The ordinance also restricts dispensaries' hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

A lawsuit filed last week by state officials has put the dispensary program on hold, but DHS continues to issue patient and caregiver cards. If patients are too ill to grow for themselves, caregivers are the only available source for marijuana.

"With that lawsuit, the landscape has changed considerably," Gilbert Senior Planner Mike Milillo told the Planning Commission. "There's really even more of an impetus to have some sort of regulations on caregivers."

Town officials are proposing to limit caregiver growing to light-industrial zoning districts. Unlike dispensaries, the caregivers would not require a use permit.

Caregivers would also be required to submit "residence locations and proof of registry-identification cards" of patients who will be using marijuana from their cultivation site, according to a town staff report.

While town planners see the proposed rules as a moderate compromise, three medical-marijuana advocates argued the restrictions would be too onerous and would encourage black-market dealing.

"I believe that the path the program is about to take is not what the voters intended," said Gilbert resident Paul Schroeder, who has already received town approval to open a dispensary, pending a license from the state.

"My fear is that this delay is going to lead to kind of a Wild West on the black market, if you will," Schroeder said. "That's not in the best interest of the patient rights in the long run."

Lease rates for industrial space are likely too expensive for a single caregiver because they can grow for only five patients, Schroeder said. Instead, he asked the Planning Commission to consider allowing multiple caregivers to share a single site within an industrial building.

The co-location concept was discussed during a stakeholders meeting in April, but the group had decided against it, Councilwoman Linda Abbott said.

"The logic behind the discussion had to do with the idea that we dealt with the dispensary issue, and that would deal with the caregiver issue," Abbott said. "At all times, the stakeholders were concerned about the residential impact."

Several commission members expressed support for a co-location provision but admitted they still know little about it. The commission voted 7-0 to continue the discussion at its July 6 meeting.


News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: azcentral.com
Author: Parker Leavitt
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: azcentral.com
Website: Gilbert medical-marijuana future in limbo after lawsuit
 
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