In November 2010 voters in Arizona narrowly passed proposition 203 that allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The proposition also allowed individual cities to create and enact “reasonable zoning restrictions for medical marijuana and cultivation to specified areas.”
During the April 5 city council meeting, council members voted 4-3 to keep language in the city’s proposed medical marijuana ordinance that severely limits the placement of a marijuana dispensary in the city.
When the code was originally written in December, it stated dispensaries could not be located within 1,500 feet of a school, place of worship, public library or park, or within 500 feet of a residential area.
However, at the March 29 council meeting, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended removing restrictions on placing dispensaries near public parks, places of worship and libraries. The change would have greatly expanded possibilities for dispensary locations.
Councilmember Julia Gusse voted to keep the more restrictive language in the ordinance and supported the idea of keeping dispensaries out of the city, an outcome that would be likely if the facilities are barred from proximity to places of worship, public parks and libraries as well as schools and residential areas.
“I want to keep marijuana as far away from our kids as possible,” Gusse said. “I grew up in an area where I knew exactly where marijuana was sold, I moved to Maricopa to remove my kids from that environment.
“At the same time I’m not naive and understand, as my parents did, that I must educate and keep my own kids off of any illegal substance. Nonetheless, I am in favor of keeping a marijuana dispensary outside our city limits.”
Under the rules created by the Arizona Department of Health and Safety ADHS, one dispensary is allowed in each of the 126 areas the department uses to track public health statistics.
“Medical marijuana is a very important and controversial issue,” said Councilmember Marvin Brown. “I feel very strongly about so many citizens getting emotionally distraught about this, when they shouldn’t be.
“It’s a system that can easily be placed and controlled. What really disturbs me is, in this country, we have low tolerance for those who are in real need. It’s been viewed negatively, when it shouldn’t be.”
Councilmembers Carl Diedrich and Alan Marchione joined Brown in voting against reinserting the stricter limitations on distance into the ordinance.
“The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act only requires that the cities keep a 500-foot buffer from schools, day cares and other educational institutions,” Diedrich said. “The League of Arizona Cities created the model code that added other places of worship, parks, libraries into the potential for areas that you would create a buffer,” he said.
“We’re talking about the potential for one dispensary in Maricopa.” Diedrich added. “We’re talking about a domino effect when trying to place a dispensary in our city. Anyone can say they are a house of worship and there is nothing that designates they are, except they say that they are. You’re asking for us to limit the placement of a legal activity, which is very similar to what they do at Walgreen’s.”