Mesa trying to curb marijuana sites in the city – East Valley Tribune

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Mesa took the first step toward restricting recreational marijuana sales only a day after Gov. Doug Ducey certified the general election results, which included the overwhelming victory for Proposition 207.

Assistant City Manager John Pombier said Mesa was joining East Valley cities in immediately adopting the series of restrictions, which include limiting recreational marijuana sales to “dual licensed’’ medical marijuana dispensaries.

“We are going lock-step with the rest of the Valley to make sure we do this in a uniform measure,’’ Pombier said.

Mesa Mayor John Giles said he is concerned that it is difficult to know whether Mesa, which already has 13 medical marijuana dispensaries, would get more medical or recreational licenses when the state Department of Health Services addresses the issue next year.

He said he does not want Mesa to “turn into a magnet for these types of businesses,’’ if they are blocked by neighboring East Valley cities.

“Mesa currently is not a marijuana desert. We have 13 medical marijuana dispensaries. That is more than the rest of the East Valley combined,’’ Giles said.

Mesa and other cities have no control over the award of recreational licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries, a procedure provided by the new law. 

The new Mesa ordinance, which was introduced last week and is now scheduled for a public hearing on Dec. 8, mimics the proposition in many ways.

It makes smoking marijuana in a public place or in a car a petty offense subject to a minimum fine of $150. 

Although the new law allows possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and decriminalizes possession of up to 2 ½ ounces, the Mesa ordinance would bar possession on all city property.

That would include parks and new plaza scheduled for construction next year that links Main Street with the new ASU@Mesa City Center academic building, a highly touted central piece in the city’s plans for a reawakened downtown. 

But the impact of Mesa’s new ordinance on restricting additional dispensaries remains unclear, with council member Jen Duff estimating the city stands to receive only two or three more and zoning administrator Nana Appiah estimating there is a possibility of three or four more being allowed under zoning ordinances that already regulate dispensaries.

Existing ordinances limit dispensaries to industrial zoning districts and require substantial distances away from churches, schools and transitional drug treatment facilities.

Spacing limitations require that dispensaries be located at least 5,280 feet from each other and that they must be 1,200 feet from churches libraries, schools and public parks in industrial districts.

Mesa City Attorney Assumes Jim Smith, who analyzed Proposition 207, said the net effect is that the city’s dispensaries are mainly located in west and east Mesa, where industrial zoning is more available.

Smith estimated that there may be 10-20 medical licenses holders that will not apply for a recreational license throughout the state. Smith also noted the state is preparing to award 26 “social equity licenses,’’ which are supposed to go to communities disproportionately affected by drug enforcement efforts.

“I think we can have more come in,’’ Smith said, including additional medical marijuana licenses. 

He said west Mesa would be “kind of tight,’’ to add more licenses but other parts of the city might be available.

Council members were divided on the new ordinance but Giles appeared to have enough votes to get it approved.

Council members Dave Luna, Mark Freeman and Kevin Thompson all said they supported it, while Duff expressed concerns about over-regulation and Jeremy Whittaker said he thought it was an “overreach’’ on the city’s part.

Whittaker was the only council member to vote against scheduling a public hearing.

“I’m sure this is going to be a big learning curve,’’ Freeman said.

He said restricting the recreational licenses to existing medical marijuana dispensaries was part of a good “game plan’’ and he likes the idea of Mesa adopting a similar law to other cities.

“If any litigation were to come down the pike, probably we all would have to fight the battle together,’’ Freeman said.

Thompson said it upsets him that someone who lights up a joint behind the wheel could face only a $150 fine, but Assistant Chief Lee Rankin said it would still be possible to cite someone for driving under the influence if they smoked enough marijuana to be impaired to the slightest degree, a misdemeanor.

Rankin also acknowledged that it would be difficult for an officer in the field to develop evidence that someone is vaping marijuana on city property – or if a gummy bear or a brownie contained THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces a high.

Because state authorities need time to develop additional regulations and award licenses, the full impact of the law probably will not be felt until April, when recreational marijuana is expected to go on sale.

Police and an attorney who specializes in marijuana cases said previously that they are concerned residents will not pay attention to the law’s many details and buy more marijuana on the black market.

The East Valley DUI Task Force will be watching carefully, as usual, for drivers impaired by alcohol and drugs. Mesa has 25 officers trained as drug recognition experts who can spot signs of impairment and conduct tests in the field.

“I think the language is really hampering our ability to protect our citizens,’’ Thompson said. “It’s an atrocity waiting to happen.’’

But Duff said the ordinance was introduced very quickly and she would like more time to consult her constituents and study Proposition 207.

“In this short time, there’s a lot of unanswered questions. If we do it out of fear, that’s not a good reason to pass an ordinance,’’ she said.

“Whatever Mesa would absorb (in new licenses), does it really matter if it is two or four?’’ Duff said. “It’s not going to change the quality of our life.’’

Whittaker noted that Proposition 207 was approved by voters with a 20-point margin of victory and said he is concerned about the city losing potential tax revenue by restricting recreational marijuana.

“We sell alcohol on every single corner,’’ Whittaker said, citing supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores. “It’s not as if individuals in the community have the same concerns as we do. It seems like an over-reach to me.’’

This article originally appeared here in https://www.eastvalleytribune.com/news/mesa-trying-to-curb-marijuana-sites-in-the-city/article_d30dc3da-3680-11eb-8780-0767e8fdbef5.html

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