By Mark Carlisle
With a 5-1 vote Feb. 1 Glendale’s Planning Commission decided to recommend to City Council the approval of a zoning text amendment that will change the way medical marijuana is sold in the city of Glendale.
The zoning text amendment, ZTA17-01, recommended for approval by thecommission will expand the maximum square footage for a medical marijuana dispensary from 2,000 to 6,000 square feet and extend the maximum operating hours for a dispensary from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
While no date is set, Interim Planning Director Jim Cronk said the issue will likely come before Council, which will make the final decision, in late March.
The amendment was brought forth by Rose Law Group representing Arizona Organix, a medical marijuana dispensary at 5301 W. Glendale Ave. Arizona Organix is currently operating at the maximum square footage and hours of operations and says those restrictions do not allow them to properly serve its client base.
“It’s a growing, thriving, successful business, and it’s a victim of its own success,” said Thomas F. Galvin Jr., a lawyer from Rose Law Group. “There are so many people now that come to Arizona Organix, that it’s basically bursting at the seams.”
The crux of Mr. Galvin’s argument is that there is a rapidly increasing demand for medical marijuana in the state, but the number of dispensaries is not increasing at a rate to meet that demand.
“The math just dictates that one dispensary, on a daily basis, has to serve more and more customers,” Mr. Galvin told Glendale Today in September. “…So,whenyouhave a business in 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.”
The amount of medical marijuana sold in Arizona is on the rise, with 43 tons of the cannabis consumed in 2017, compared with the 29 ton the year prior — a 48 percent increase — according to the Arizona Department of Health Service.
The change would not be an unprecendented one in the Valley. 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 singlecase exception from an ordinance regulation.
Neighboring communities also differ in how they limit the size of dispensaries. 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.
The 4,000-square-foot storefront next to Arizona Organix is vacant. Mr. Galvin said that the dispensary plans to add only half of that available space and expand to 4,000 square feet should the amendment be approved and consider expanding to the full 6,000 square feet later.
Glendale could be elegible for another dispensary, Mr. Cronk said. The city recently received an applicant for a new dispensary, but the application was not recommended for approval, according to Mr. Cronk. Part of the reason was because applicant’s have a difficult time finding an available space that meets all of city’s requirements, mandating new dispensaries be at least one mile from any other dispensary, at least a quarter mile from any school and at least 500 feet from any residential zoning area.
The other two Glendale dispensaries have not weighed in on the amendment, Mr. Cronk said.
Vice Chair Gary Hirsch, the commission’s mayoral appointment from the Cactus District, was the only member of the commission to vote against the recommendation of approval. He did not explain his vote, nor did any of the five “yes” votes. Commissioner Vern Crow of the Cactus District was absent for the meeting.
The planning division, headed by Mr. Cronk, recommended approval of the amendment to the commission. Among the reasons listed in the division’s recommendations were that the amendment, “furthers the public health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of the City of Glendale”; it “supports the city’s goals of business attraction, business expansion and retention, redevelopment including downtown revitalization, and businessassistance”; and it “will provide a quality community environment and accommodate diverse lifestyles.”
Jack Martino, one of two members of the public to speak at the public hearing portion of Thursday’s meeting, took issue with the latter two reasons.
“Really? Such nonsense. How did they arrive at that particular conclusion?” heasked during the meeting.
Mr. Martino was one of five members of the public to attend one of three informational public meetings put on by Rose Law Group in September. Thursday’s meeting was sparsely attended as well, with fewer than 10 people in the seats of the City Council chambers, including three members of the public who had attended those meetings.
Mr. Martino said Thursday that he did not like that this change would apply to all other current and future Glendale dispensaries. He and several others mentioned the same issue during the September meetings.
However, an amendment that affects the entire city was Arizona Organix’s only option, according to Mr. Cronk and former Planning Director Jon Froke. City law does not allow for variances or conditional use permits to medical marijuana dispensaries. Mr. Froke retired at the end of 2017, but spoke to Glendale Today about the issue in September.
Mr. Martino urged the commission not to recommend approval of the amendment.
“The current standards applicable to medical marijuana are working as designed and intended,” he said. “What’s the old saying? ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’” In his closing statements, Mr. Galvin said that saying did not apply to this situation.
“That’s the reason why we’re here is that we don’t want this to become a broken policy because of the ordinance. The business is growing. Many more people are getting licenses from the state of Arizona, but there are just not any more dispensaries are being created so this business has to serve the clientele and a patient base, and they just want to provide the best customer service possible. And people are not going to get good customer service if they’re going to be crowded into a building because it’s too small or because they have to rush to get there at 8 p.m.”
Mr. Galvin also said that Arizona Organix had been forced to use its employee breakroom as a storage space because of it’s lack of space. He also said one of the dispensary’s use of the extra space would be to hold support groups and educational classes.
Gary Sherwood, who used to serve on the planning commission and on City Council, was the only other member of the public to speak. Mr. Sherwood clarified that he was at the meeting on his own accord, noting that he had interacted with Rose Law Group during his tenure on each of those bodies, but said that the group did not reach out to him to speak, nor did he reach out to them. He also attended two of the three public meetings in September.
Mr. Sherwood urged the commission to recommend approval, saying that Glendale should support local businesses.
“Increasing the size and extending the hours of operation by two hours has no negative impact on the average citizen, whatsoever,” he said. “It will, in fact, offer more beneficial services to citizens… More patients, more sales tax.”
Mr. Sherwood also urged that the amendment not get swept up in the controversial nature of marijuana.
“I would also caution that we need to keep our personal sentiments toward medical marijuana from this decision. We all have various opinions on medical marijuana, but this is not a hearing on medical marijuana, this is a zoning text amendment for a business.”
Arizona Organix opened in 2012 as the first medical marijuana dispensary in the state. Glendale’s ordinance regarding marijuana has not changed since it was written in 2011.
Federal vs. state law
The controversy surrounding marijuana lives in more than just public opinion. There is also contradiction in state and federal law.
Arizona Proposition 203 passed in 2010, which legalized the use ofcannabis for certain debilitating medical conditions. A few months later in early2011, Glendale created
its ordinance laying out laws pertaining to medical marijuana in the city. Forty- six states have legalized medical marijuana and eight states have legalized recreational marijuana; however, buying, selling and consuming marijuana — whether medical or recreational — is still illegal under federal law and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Mr. Hirsch, the only commissioner to vote against the recommendation, approached the subject in Thursday’s meeting, with apparent trepidation.
“I have another question,” Mr. Hirsch said to Mr. Galvin of Rose Law Group. He then cleared his throat and took a long pause. “Is your client’s organization in compliance with federal law regarding the sale, use and distribution of marijuana.”
Mr. Galvin appeared prepared for the question.
“You know, this is a local issue,” he said. “…The (U.S.) attorney general, Mr. (Jeff) Sessions, issued some new guidance, but this is the law of the land in the state of Arizona, and the voters of the state of Arizona passed a medical marijuana law in 2010, and that’s what we’re operating under… All politics is local, I’m going to answer your question on a local basis, Mr. Hirsch.”
Mr. Hirsch responded to the answer light-heartedly, a change from the tone with which he asked the question.
“Fair enough. I realize there’s a tension, but I honestly didn’t know what that relationship would be,” he said to Mr. Galvin. “Obviously, it’s voter approved.
Mr. Galvin referred to action taken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to leave it up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules collide with federal drug law. The announcement has not yielded any action yet. Mr. Sessions provided no details other than saying individual U.S. attorneys are authorized to prosecute marijuana operators as they choose. The action brought pushback both from supporters of marijuana use and supporters of states’ rights.
Arizona marijuana changes
There was a new marijuana development at the state level this week. A bill, SB 1420, introduced in the state senate would give the state Department of Agriculture the same authority over marijuana as it now has over other plants offered for sale for consumption. That would give agriculture inspectors the power to inspect the cultivation facilities where marijuana is grown. Mr. Cronk anticipated the zoning text amendmentwould come before City Council for approval in late March. Beginning in 2018, Council two Tuesday’s each month with two meetings held on each of those Tuesdays. If there is no interruption in the Council’s trend to meet every other Tuesday, the last meeting of March would take place Tuesday, March 27. City Council workshops usually start at 12:30 p.m., in the Council chambers, 5850 W. Glendale Ave.
Mark Carlisle can be reached at 623-876-2518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.