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12:05 PM Sun, Dec. 09th

Prescott considers zoning for medical marijuana operations

PRESCOTT - Along with other communities across Arizona, Prescott is grappling with a list of questions about medical marijuana.

Two Prescott commissions recently discussed the zoning issues surrounding the ballot proposition that Arizona voters narrowly approved in November. And both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Unified Development Code Committee will consider the matter again in coming months.

The Unified Development Code Committee (UDC) will next discuss medical marijuana 10 a.m. Jan. 5 at Prescott City Hall, 201 S. Cortez St. Soon after that, the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the recommendations from that committee, although the P&Z commission's discussion has yet to be scheduled.

Ultimately, the matter will go before the Prescott City Council for consideration of an ordinance that would govern locations for medical marijuana operations, including:

• Dispensaries for the distribution of the marijuana and related supplies.

• Marijuana "facilities," including buildings, structures or premises used for the growth, cultivation, and storage of the marijuana, as well as the "infusion" of the substance by the cooking or blending into consumable and edible products.

So far, the city has drafted an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana in accordance with the state ballot issue, Proposition 203.

Planning Director George Worley stressed, however, that the city's draft is still in the very preliminary stages, and that the UDC likely would rewrite the document before it goes back to Planning and Zoning.

Currently, Worley said the city is awaiting the draft requirements from the Arizona Department of Health Services, the agency that will regulate Arizona's medical marijuana industry. Worley expects the state's draft to be available on Friday, after which the department would ask for public comment.

"We're almost in a holding pattern until we see what they propose," Worley said of the state's draft requirements.

Community Planner Mike Bacon told the Planning and Zoning Commission this past week that among the questions is the taxability of the medical marijuana.

"Is this going to be a taxable item? We don't know how the state is going to decide on that," Bacon said, adding, "If it is taxed, we'd like our cut, so to speak."

While some of the Planning and Zoning Commission discussion debated the desirability of having the marijuana operations in the community, Commissioner Len Scamardo noted, "We're a zoning commission, and I think we ought to stick (to zoning issues)."

Basically, Worley said, the city aims to separate the manufacturing side of the medical marijuana industry from the retail side, with the manufacturing being restricted to heavy industrial areas, and the dispensaries being in commercial areas.

In response to a question by Commission Chairman Tom Menser about why the marijuana is not being handled through existing pharmacies, Adam Trenk of the Scottsdale-based Rose Law Group responded that pharmacies face a conflict because of their regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Pharmacies are licensed by the FDA, and (medical marijuana) is still illegal on the federal level," Trenk said.

Worley noted that the city has received a number of ordinance recommendations from groups representing those with interests in the medical marijuana program, including a sample ordinance from the Rose Law Group.

"We accept information from anybody," Worley said, adding, "Certainly, it's going to be vetted" to ensure that the recommendations are in the city's best interests.

Worley expects the Arizona Department of Health Services to have its requirements in effect by early April.

In preparation for that, he said, the City of Prescott plans to have its ordinance in effect by early March.