Payson Moves Toward Marijuana Dispensaries

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The Payson Town Council on Tuesday will likely adopt new ground rules to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in industrial or commercial zones, so long as they’re not within 500 feet of a school, child-care center, park, library, church or any facility devoted to family entertainment.

The proposed rules would also bar any dispensaries within 1,000 feet of one another or any drug treatment facility.

The town’s ordinance would also ban more than one offsite cultivation location for each dispensary — with no more than two dispensaries allowed within the town limits.

The new rules would limit dispensaries to either the few areas in town zoned for industrial development or to major commercial areas, like the big shopping centers along the highway.

“We’re looking at the two sides of that coin,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. “One side is to put (a dispensary) in as remote an area as you possibly can. The other is to put it in a commercial center with a lot of traffic so the public becomes part of the monitoring system.”

The council will consider the second reading of the ordinance allowing dispensaries at its Thursday meeting, which starts at 5:30 in Town Hall.

At least one person has said he will apply to the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) for a license to operate a marijuana dispensary in a metal warehouse near the airport.

However, the state has yet to finalize many key rules for the dispensaries — authorized by the voters as the result of a November ballot initiative. The initiative would allow people to get an identification card to buy limited quantities of marijuana if they get a “recommendation” from their doctor.

The initiative linked the number of dispensaries to the number of pharmacies in the state, which means that the number of licenses would initially be limited to about 140 statewide — although the initiative says each county must get at least one license.

It is possible that DHS will allocate the licenses based on population, which means Gila County might get only one license. DHS has not yet released the guidelines by which it will give out the licenses in the event, for instance, that people in both Globe and Payson apply for a license.

That concerns Payson officials, largely because another provision of the initiative will allow people who can qualify for a medical marijuana card to grow up to 12 plants on their own property if there’s no dispensary within 25 miles.

Payson Police Chief Don Engler has expressed concerns about the prospect of many people cultivating pot in their homes or yards should Payson not end up with a dispensary.

“Our dilemma is that without a facility located in the central part of Gila County,” said Evans, “you’d have the opportunity for every single person in town to start growing medical marijuana.”

The state health department has released a draft of its proposed regulations, which would attempt to set strict limits on who can qualify for a card that would allow them to buy marijuana from a dispensary or grow their own if there were no dispensaries within 25 miles.

Those proposed rules would allow doctors to “recommend” marijuana only for patients with certain chronic conditions, which includes chronic pain and things like cancer and glaucoma.

Marijuana remains a federally controlled substance, which means doctors can’t actually prescribe it.

Only the doctor treating that condition could make the recommendation and then only after having seen the patient for at least four times for that condition in the past year. That condition is intended to avoid the experience of other states, where doctors connected to the dispensaries could provide a “recommendation,” even if they didn’t regularly see the patient.

DHS has concluded that such a restriction would reduce the potential pool of qualified patients from about 100,000 to about 20,000.

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