Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Are They Thinking? Maricopa Supervisors Create Grow-Your-Own Havens

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on August 31, 2011 undid the work it invested late last year in creating a zoning classification for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation sites in the unincorporated areas of the giant, most-populous county in Arizona.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA), adopted by the voters in November 2010, allows cities and counties to impose reasonable zoning restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation sites.  Maricopa County was quick to act, with its Board of Supervisors taking action to amend its zoning ordinance on November 17, 2010, only days after the unofficial election results showed that Proposition 203 had passed.  Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox lauded the staff for their "proactive move that will be good for the community," and the Board unanimously adopted a text amendment that provided the requirements and regulations for dispensaries in the unincorporated "county islands" whose development it governs.

That was then.  Bill Montgomery was elected Maricopa County Attorney in the same election, and he was one of the most vocal opponents of Proposition 203.  On May 26, 2011, he issued a formal legal opinion advising the Board to take no steps to implement the AMMA.  His opinion coincided with the announcement that Governor Jan Brewer was going to sue the federal government in federal court, the first of a flurry of lawsuits that brought a halt to the dispensary application process.

The recent Board action -- again unanimous with Commissioner Fulton Brock absent -- was in response to Montgomery's legal opinion.  Maricopa County did away with the zoning definitions it adopted just after the AMMA's passage, instead reclassifying dispensaries and cultivation sites as ones which must not be in conflict with any federal law.  So as long as marijuana is an illegal drug for all purposes under the federal Controlled Substances Act, no one can set up a dispensary in unincorporated Maricopa County.

That means that when and if the dispensary application process gears up again, the county islands of Maricopa won't be getting any.  And Qualified Patients (QPs) who live in those areas -- and have no dispensary within 25 miles -- will be able to grow their own so long as the zoning classification remains in place.

One of the purposes of the AMMA and the detailed implementing regulations developed and adopted by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) was to give QPs -- and only QPs and their Designated Caregivers -- safe and legal access to medical marijuana at tightly regulated dispensaries.

ADHS Director Will Humble even touted the incentives built into the regulations to encourage dispensaries to locate in rural areas.  "We made sure that inventory could be transferred between dispensaries (and their cultivation facilities) by allowing for a wholesale market.  That way, dispensaries in rural Arizona that may have a limited number of qualified patients can decide that a core part of their business plan is to cultivate for the wholesale market and sell their inventory to dispensaries in urban Arizona," Humble said in a March 2011 blog post.

Surely having marijuana growing in homes scattered all over unincorporated Maricopa County is a worse option than having QPs in those areas able to buy medical cannabis products at a few well-controlled, non-profit dispensaries.  Arizoneout certainly thinks so.

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