Plans are under way to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Payson later this year.
Desert Medical Campus, the only group with state authorization to open a licensed dispensary in Rim Country, has been in talks with town officials for some time to open a dispensary and cultivation site off North Tonto Street.
The proposed dispensary’s proximity to schools has concerned some parents, however, it appears to meet all separation requirements set by the town.
Speaking before the Planning and Zoning Commission, Tiffany Young, Desert Medical Campus’ co-director, said very few locations in town met the required setbacks.
Realtor Cliff Potts said Desert Medical Campus (DMC) enlisted his help finding a property.
Finding sites at least 1,000 feet away from substance abuse centers and 500 feet from facilities that serve minors, including schools, presented a huge challenge, he said.
DMC ultimately settled on the former location of The Rock Yard, 200 N. Tonto St., because it met all requirements and is tucked back in a cul-de-sac off the main highway.
DMC had originally planned to open an off-site cultivation facility at 1400 Red Baron Road, near the airport, but abandoned those plans. The medical marijuana grown off Tonto Street will supply the dispensary. Young said they might pursue an off-site cultivation facility in the future. DMC is only allowed to open one off-site grow site under town code.
Young explained that DMC wants to meet and exceed all requirements set by the town and state. Under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Law, which voters narrowly approved in 2010, 126 licensed dispensaries are authorized to open across the state in Community Health Analysis Areas (CHAAs).
On Wednesday, the Glendale Greenhouse dispensary down in the Valley announced it had passed a final Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) inspection and was open. It is the second licensed and regulated medical marijuana dispensary in the Valley.
Dispensaries in Fort Mohave, Eloy and Bisbee have also recently opened or are about to open.
The state rules allow just two dispensaries in Gila County, one in the north and one in the south. Nearly a dozen companies or individuals applied to open a dispensary in Payson. The state randomly selected winners through a lottery from among the qualified applicants.
DMC, based in Scottsdale, was selected for Payson.
Each dispensary must follow strict rules set by the state and town.
Young said meeting those regulations has been dizzying. While they anticipated opening next month, additional work to the electrical system has pushed the grand opening back several months.
The town is currently working with DMC on a building permit, said Sheila DeSchaaf, with the town’s planning department.
The town required DMC to submit a Medical Marijuana Ordinance Administrative application. The more than 100-page document included a 45-page business plan, which the town refused to release based on privacy concerns.
The town did release details of the security measures DMC will take at the cultivation center and dispensary.
Measures include state-of-the-art security equipment to monitor the facility continually; panic buttons in each room; a trained, former law enforcement officer or security officer on the premises during business hours and frequent removal of cash in an armored vehicle as needed.
DMC also stated it would operate as a not-for-profit as required by state law, narrowly approved by the voters almost two years ago. Under the law, DMC is not required to incorporate or be recognized as tax-exempt with the Internal Revenue Service. The federal government has refused to treat state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries as a normal business. As a result, many cannot even open accounts in federally insured banks.
But Young, 40, said operating a dispensary is a unique opportunity. “What other business can you have a little bit of philanthropy, give back to the community and be able to offer good jobs in an economy that has been really tough,” she said.
Besides Young, DMC is fronted by Andrew Provencio, 54, the group’s CEO, CFO and co-director, according to town documents, which the Roundup requested through a public records request.
Provencio, a former Alaska firefighter, told the town council in October that although the group expects to see revenues ranging from $2 million to $9 million annually, as much as 75 percent of excess revenue would stay within the town.
Young said they are not trying to get rich off the venture. She told the Roundup the most important thing is creating a warm, friendly and safe place for patients to receive their medicine.
The space will include a bakery, wellness center, an office for the medical director and indoor garden area.
When the dispensary finally opens, people with a medical marijuana card living within a 25-mile radius can no longer grow their own supply once their current card expires.
The ADHS issues cards that allow patients to use medical marijuana, grow it or both. The cards must be renewed every year.
Young said she does not use medical marijuana, but appreciates its healing qualities. Watching several family members battle cancer and use it to manage their pain “forever changed her view and perception of medicinal marijuana” and inspired her to open a dispensary.
She teamed up with Provencio, a 29-year veteran of the Anchorage Alaska Fire Department. Provencio writes that as a captain and first responder, he often saw patients overdosed on prescription drugs.
“Over time, Andrew grew to believe there should be more options to allow individuals the opportunity to make their own choices between clinical, holistic care and traditional pharmaceutical treatments,” according to paperwork in DMC’s application.
“It was witnessing the untimely loss of life that inspired Andrew to take part in Arizona’s dispensary application process as a legal, natural alternative to patient care.”
The group is still looking for a name for the dispensary. They want readers to submit their ideas to the Roundup at editor@ payson.com.