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Most Arizona Cities Planning To Allow Recreational Marijuana

Published: Monday, December 28, 2020 - 3:02pm
Updated: Tuesday, December 29, 2020 - 8:12am
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MARK BRODIE: Arizona voters legalized recreational marijuana in last month's election, but it won't be available in every city and town in the state. Proposition 207 allows municipalities to limit the number of dispensaries, put certain zoning restrictions for them in place and prohibit marijuana establishments altogether. And some Arizona cities and towns have already done that last one, including Scottsdale and Gilbert. But how will the rest of Arizona cities and towns handle this issue? With me to talk about that is Tom Belshe, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. And Tom, what are you hearing from city officials about how they're thinking about recreational marijuana coming online in Arizona, and whether or not they might look to allow it or not in their municipality?

TOM BELSHE: Well, Mark, we have been active with our city attorneys in creating a model ordinance that we've sent out because we hear cities with a variety of local issues that they want to try to address. The vast majority of cities and towns are preparing for dual licensees to operate in current medical facilities. There have been a handful, three or four, that have decided to ban the activity. And we have a number of others who are possibly considering allowing not only those but additional facilities in their communities. So as an organization, what we've tried to do is just assist them in the policy positions that they're in and allow them to make the decision that's best for their communities.

BRODIE: So you mentioned there are maybe a handful or so that have said, "We don't want this." Gilbert and Scottsdale — two of the bigger ones, at least in the Valley that have already said that. Do you anticipate that there are more cities or towns that will outlaw recreational marijuana dispensaries within their city lines?

BELSHE: Not that I'm aware of, Mark, but as an association, sometimes those things come to us last, but not that we're aware of right now. There may be others that are contemplating it, but not that I know of at this point.

BRODIE: What are the kinds of conversations that you're hearing about within cities and that city officials are having with you about some of the best ways to try to, to handle this and make sure that the law is followed? But maybe they don't, the cities don't have the kinds of consequences that the that they're nervous about.

BELSHE: Well, I think that that's why we spent so much time on the model ordinance, because it deals with issues related to all the things that we're always worried about — noise, parking, public health, public safety — just making sure that the intent of the initiative that, as we've interpreted it and as we've looked at it, is met. We want to make sure that that is done safely. That's, you know, as, as a cities, those are the things that we're concerned about. And so that's what we focused on. And I think that we've accomplished it through this model ordinance that we've prepared. This, again, is one of our cornerstone philosophies, as you know, Mark, we've talked about this many times, is that we care deeply about local control. And so within the confines of the initiative, because, again, an initiative that passed, that supersedes any local ordinances — so our ordinances have to comply with the initiative, and we feel that they do.

BRODIE: So given what you said about local control and given some of the differences between different parts of the state and the needs and abilities of different towns to do certain things, have you found that even cities or towns that are looking to adopt the model ordinance, are they having to tweak it or adjust it slightly for their unique situations?

BELSHE: In certain situations. But there isn't what we consider to be any kind of significant (adjustment), because, again, one of the reasons that you do a model ordinance is because you spend a lot of time working with those attorneys to make sure that it fits under the umbrella of the initiative. And so there may be tweaks, but I don't think that there's anything significant in those tweaks.

BRODIE: Can you give us a sense of some of the provisions of that? Like if you are a resident of one of the cities or towns that adopts it, what kinds of regulations, what kinds of provisions might you be looking at?

BELSHE: Well, again, it follows what the initiative says, and that is that it allows us — so for the most part, what it allows is that those medical facilities, those medical retail facilities that exist in the state, will be licensed, and they'll have the right of first refusal, so to speak. And then the other things that are included in the initiative are things like adequate parking, adequate lighting, other types of zoning issues. And so those are the types of things that are included in it, because even if you say are allowing new facilities to come in and are not doing the dual licensing but are open to additional, there may be things that you want to control. You know, how many of these facilities can be in one location. And so that's the types of things that, that are included in these ordinances. And it's one of the things that's very important to understand as well, is that the zoning can't be more restrictive than the zoning that we have done for medical facilities. So retail facilities can't be regulated more heavily than the medical facilities are.

BRODIE: Do you get the sense that this is the kind of situation where city officials, city councils are going to have to sort of wait and see how everything plays out and what happens and maybe tweak what they have within, be it a few months or maybe a year or two down the road based on what they're seeing in their city or town?

BELSHE: Absolutely. I feel like there may be some changes one way or the other. Some that are looking at it and worried about it may adjust. And those that are more open to it may adjust. I absolutely believe that's true. And so, again, we've tried to build that flexibility into the initiative. Cities and towns plan and are conservative, but also depending on their experience, we'll go back and make changes.

BRODIE: Is there a general sentiment that you've heard from city officials — be they elected officials, city attorneys, city managers, those kinds of people — about what their expectations are once these dispensaries start opening up?

BELSHE: You know, again, they talk to their colleagues. If you're a manager, you're talking to other managers and other places. If you're an elected official, obviously, you're paying attention to what's going on in other communities. And so, but the experience is always unique and it's unique to within the state. And so, as you can imagine, I found that in 91 cities, things that we plan for are unique, and the way that they roll out in certain communities is unique. So you can imagine if you look across the country, that's going to be absolutely true as well.

BRODIE: All right. That is Tom Belshe, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. Tom, nice to talk to you. Thank you.

BELSHE: Thank you, Mark.

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