By Mark Carlisle
City Council is considering a law change that would require any new medical marijuana dispensary in the city be at least a quarter mile removed from any type of school as well as from childcare centers, parks, libraries and rehabilitation facilities.
The proposed change would also bar three of four Glendale dispensaries from expanding.
City code states medical marijuana dispensaries must be removed at least a quarter mile, or 1,320 feet, from any “elementary, secondary or high school.”
Sahuaro District City Councilman Ray Malnar introduced the law change because residents had brought to his attention what he felt was an oversight in the law.
“The purpose, again, that this was requested was because there was a medical marijuana dispensary that was installed in very close proximity to a preschool,” Mr. Malnar said. “And the intent was to redefine what a school is.”
Under current law, preschools are not included as a sensitive land use from which a dispensary must buffer itself from. So, the dispensary, The Glendale GreenHouse near 83rd Avenue and Union Hills Drive, was within its right when it opened shop about 1,000 feet from Phoenix Children’s Academy Private Preschool, which is west of 83rd Avenue from the dispensary.
The law change, if adopted, would not apply retroactively. Meaning Glendale GreenHouse would be allowed to continue operating at its current location. However, it — and two other dispensaries in town — would not be allowed to add square footage to its current location because such an expansion would be within a quarter mile of a school.
The proposed law change would also add types of establishments to the list dispensaries must be buffered from to include any childcare businesses, libraries, public parks and residential substance abuse treatment facilities, sober living home or other drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility.
Three of the four dispensaries in Glendale are within a quarter mile of one of these land uses and would not be allowed to expand if the law is adopted.
Beside Glendale GreenHouse, Harvest House of Cannibas, near 59th Avenue and Thunderbird Road is about 400 feet from Tutor Time across 59th Avenue, about 700 feet from a playground along the Arizona Canal Trail and about 1,000 feet from Thorton Detox, a rehabilitation center.
Arizona Organix, at 53rd and Glendale avenues, is about 900 feet east of Moore Creative Learning Center preschool and childcare.
Ponderosa ReLeaf, near 91st and Northern avenues, is the only Glendale dispensary that would not be impacted by the proposed law change.
City Council considered the change to city zoning in a late June meeting, but tabled the vote to a future meeting. Council members wanted the issue brought back in a Council workshop for more in depth discussion before voting. Many on Council wanted the definitions in the law to be more clearly defined.
Cholla District Councilwoman Lauren Tolmachoff thought the amended definition schools in the proposed change — “a public, private, parochial, charter, fine arts, or similar school or educational facility where minors are enrolled” — was too open to interpretation.
Mayor Jerry Weiers agreed, noting that a paint studio that holds occasional classes for children could be considered an educational facility under the definition.
Mr. Malnar said his intent with the suggested change was to broaden the definition of school to include things like preschools. He was open to further discussion of the definitions in the laws and said he’d meant for the item to be discussed in a workshop before a vote, which did not happen. The Glendale Planning Commission reviewed the zoning change before it came to Council, approving it unanimously.
“I think this is a good thing we need, because I know where there’s a dispensary that’s right across the street from a Tutor Time,” said Sahuaro Commissioner Rick Harper during May’s planning commission workshop, in reference to the Harvest House of Cannibas dispensary. “And I questioned it when it went in there, and I think it needs to be changed.”
Aside from limiting expansion of existing dispensaries, the adding sensitive uses would greatly limit where a new dispensary could open in Glendale.
“I’m concerned that we’re overreaching,” Mr. Weiers said.
Ms. Tolmachoff also suggested the law would put an undue burden on dispensaries.
“Medical marijuana dispensaries are a legal business in Arizona, and we want to be business-friendly,” Ms. Tolmachoff said. She said she understood expanding the definition of schools to include all schools but that things such as dance studios that could be considered educational facilities under the new definition might be a step too far.
Mr. Weiers predicted voters would vote to approve recreational marijuana in next year’s election — a proposition that failed 51-49 in 2016. In anticipation of that same vote, last month, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich suggested state lawmakers take the initiative and write and enact their own recreational marijuana program rather than risk an industry-created measure be approved at the ballot box.
“If that happens, do we want to limit the city of Glendale receiving that taxes from marijuana — if it’s state legally bought — or do we want to have so many restriction that we’re sending it to other cities,” Mr. Weiers said. “And that’s something that, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m saying it’s something we need to think about.”
Vice Mayor Joyce Clark of the Yucca District said she opposes marijuana, whether medicinal or recreational.
“The state requires us to permit the sale of marijuana. The state does not require us to promote the sale of marijuana. And that’s the distinction,” she said. “…I am not interested in doing anything to promote marijuana.”