By Mark Carlisle
Three public meetings were held during the week of Sept. 18 to educate the public and receive citizen feedback about proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries brought forth by the dispensary Arizona Organix, 5301 W. Glendale Ave.
The dispensary, represented by Rose Law Group, is requesting the city extend the maximum allotted square footage for medical marijuana dispensaries from 2,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet and to extend the available operating hours for a dispensary from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
“Every day there are more and more people who are being granted medical marijuana cards [in Arizona] that are being granted by the Department of Health Services with direction of a doctor,” said Thomas F. Galvin Jr., a lawyer from Rose Law Group. “But there is a finite number of dispensaries in the state. The number of dispensaries that can open is heavily regulated… So, what happens is with a growing patient and clientele base but a static number of dispensaries, the math just dictates that one dispensary, on a daily basis, has to serve more and more customers… So, when you have a business as in [one] downtown Glendale that is unable to serve customers, the business is A. losing customers and B. the city of Glendale is most likely losing sales tax revenue.”
If the amendment were to be adopted, it would apply to the only other dispensary in Glendale – The Green House Dispensary on Union Hills Drive near Loop 101 – as well as any future medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
It is possible that Glendale could add another dispensary. By state law, only one dispensary can exist in each Community Health Analysis Area. Glendale is split into three CHAAs, only two of which have a dispensary. The one that does not encompasses most of the Yucca District and part of El Mirage.
Both Mr. Galvin and city planning director Jon Froke said multiple companies are considering a dispensary in that area, but nothing is official yet. Mr. Galvin noted that a company will often submit requests to several cities as it considers a new location and could easily end up going to another city or stayingwhere it is. Mr. Froke agreed that this is often the case.
Mr. Froke said the city does not yet have a stance on the proposed changes. After Rose Law Group completes its Citizen Participation Process and submits a report to the city, the planning division will write a staff report on the proposed changes and make a recommendation to city council in a few months. Council will make the decision whether or not to incorporate those changes into law.
This is not the only recent change to city ordinances about medical marijuana dispensaries. In August the city amended a zoning ordinance to make the law comply with the language of state law. The minor change included medical marijuana infusion (or manufacturing) facilities under the city’s ordinances regarding medical marijuana dispensary offsite cultivation locations.
Offsite cultivation locations are essentially farms or greenhouses where the marijuana plants are grown. At infusion facilities, marijuana is injected into various items such as edible products and oils. Cultivation locations and infusion facilities are required to be at least one mile from any other cultivation or infusion facility or dispensary.
Arizona Organix, located less than a mile east of downtown Glendale, was the first medical marijuana dispensary to open in Arizona. It currently occupies the maximum 2,000 square feet, according to Mr. Galvin. The suite next to the dispensary is vacant, and Arizona Organix would like to rent the space to expand its operation to the proposed maximum 6,000 feet.
The dispensary also operates at the maximum allowed hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Mr. Galvin said inability to get to the dispensary before closing has been a growing complaint Arizona Organix has received from its customers.
“I’m usually at work until about 9 (p.m.) or a little after,” said Stephanie Valle, an Arizona Organix patient and a hairdresser who lives and works in Glendale. “So, the fact that it would be open until ten o’clock would be amazing.”
Jennifer Hall, a senior project manager at Rose Law Group, said that because Glendale dispensaries are forced to close at 8, many patients must go to dispensaries in other cities, driving tax revenue away from Glendale.
Ms. Valle said this was true in her case.
“The only time I ever go somewhere else is – they do close at eight o’clock, and I’m a hairdresser and I’m very, very busy. If I somehow missed the eight o’clock mark then I generally go to Peoria,” she said.
Rose Law Group argued that by extending closing time to 10 p.m. for Glendale dispensaries it could flip that effect and drive tax revenue into the city from nearby cities where dispensaries must close before 10 p.m.
The only nearby city with an earlier enforced closing time is Goodyear, where dispensaries must close by 7 p.m. Surprise dispensaries also must close at 8 p.m. – though they’re allowed to open at 7 a.m., Peoria’s can remain open until 9 p.m., and Phoenix’s can remain open until 10 p.m. if they apply for a variance, which is a single- case exception from an ordinance regulation.
Several Glendale residents at the Sept. 18 public meeting at the Glendale Main Library expressed concern that this change would apply to all future dispensaries rather than applying only to Arizona Organix.
Mr. Froke said a variance was not an option for Arizona Organix in this case. It’s only option to apply the changes to city law was to propose an amendment to the zoning ordinance.
Jack Martino, who was one of four members of the public to attend the Sept. 18 meeting, said that it was not a significant inconvenience for patients to have to drive to the next town during those evening hours.
“We’re not talking 35 or 40 miles, we’re talking five blocks, six blocks to get to Phoenix,” he said.
The nearest dispensary open past 8 p.m. is Herbal Wellness Center in Phoenix, according to Google and Yelp, which is four and half miles from Arizona Organix or about a 10-15 minute drive.
Ms. Valle responded to that argument by applying the same standard to other medications.
“I would ask this person if they were on any prescription medication at all, and if their CVS or their Walgreens closing at eight o’clock would be an inconvenience to them,” she said.
Arizona Organix believes its business would benefit from additional space as well, Rose Law Group said, which would give it more room for inventory as well as space for educational seminars about marijuana safety. Rose Law Group also stressed that the dispensary would not kick out any other business or undergo construction since the adjacent suite is vacant.
Phoenix dispensaries have the same 2,000 square-foot size restriction that Glendale does, but most Valley cities allow at least 500 more square feet than that limit. Gilbert, Tuscon and Tempe allow up to 3,000-, 4,000- and 5,000-square-foot facilities, respectively, and Peoria and Scottsdale have no size restrictions.
Mr. Froke said the reason for such disparity in city laws relating to medical marijuana is because cities were working in entirely new territory after the state legalized medical marijuana in 2010.
Mr. Martino suggested that the state voting down Proposition 205, which would have legalized recreational marijuana, last fall was a referendum on how residents feel about the drug. Mr. Galvin rebutted that because the proposition was rejected, recreational marijuana is a moot point, and that medical marijuana is the only topic at hand.
A total of five members of the public attended the three public meetings on the issue. Gary Sherwood, a former city councilman, attended both the Sept. 18 meeting and the Sept. 20 meeting at the Foothills Branch Library. No members of the public attended the Sept. 21 meeting at Glendale Municipal Airport, according to Rose Law Group. Councilman Ray Malnar attended the Sept. 18 meeting and Councilwoman Joyce Clark attended the Sept. 21 meeting to hear public feedback.
All members of the public who attended the meeting besides Mr. Sherwood mentionedthat while they understand the need for medical marijuana, they strongly oppose recreational marijuana.
Recreational marijuana legalization could come before Arizona voters again soon, as the Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Political Action Committee has two-thirds of the signatures needed to put the issue back onto the ballot next fall, according to its website.
Mr. Galvin did not want to entertain any hypotheticals about Arizona Organix’s role in post-legalization Arizona, saying that any possible legalization of recreational marijuana would be entirely contingent upon the exact language of whatever law might eventually legalize recreational use.
Mr. Sherwood said he was not personally invested in the issue as he does not partake of medical marijuana himself, but he hopes Glendale will welcome all types of businesses. He remarked to Ms. Hall that a similar expansion for any other type of business would be much simpler and receive little to no pushback.
Ms. Valle also commented on the controvesial nature of marijuana.
“I can understand why there is a stigma attached to it, but there is just so much so much scientific proof that this is a legitimate thing, this is a legitimate therapy,” she said. “So I would say to these people that before you form your opinion – I’m not saying that you need to try the drug – but what I would say is educate yourself. Read up. See how it’s really changing people’s lives from having to switch over from prescription medication to something that’s a far more natural alternative.”
Mark Carlisle can be reached at 623-876-2518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.