Mayor Tom Morrissey never in his lifetime thought he would discuss recreational marijuana, but that is just what the Payson Town Council did last week.
During the first of two public hearings, the council discussed updating the town code so a recreational dispensary could open.
The town’s current code allows for a medical marijuana dispensary, but after it left in March, the same owners have plans underway to open a recreational facility.
The council provided few comments on how they felt about the change Thursday, but asked the owners and their attorneys several questions.
Several residents weighed in, saying they did not support such a facility.
Resident Dave Golembewski said the town would be “selling its soul” for sales tax revenue if it allowed a recreational dispensary to open.
Planning and Zoning Commission member Barbara Buntin said if the council approves updating the town code they are condoning drug use.
The Planning and Zoning Commission recently split 2-2 on updating the code, which is an unaffordable recommendation.
The proposed change permits the operation of a recreational establishment and imposes reasonable regulations on it, which in this case are similar to those on a medical marijuana dispensary, including the required distance from a school, etc.
The dispensary’s attorney Mike Maerowitz, with Gammage and Burnham, said the dispensary owner moved the medical marijuana/recreational license to the Valley in March given the larger population base.
The same owner then successfully got (through a lottery) one of two recreational licenses for Gila County. Instead of moving it to another community in the county, the owner “very much” wants to open a dispensary in Payson. Plans include opening at the former location of Untamed Herbs on Tonto Street and possibly move the dispensary to 104 E. Highway 260, the former location of a credit union next to Taco Bell at the corner of State Route 87 and 260.
Maerowitz said they estimate a Payson recreational marijuana dispensary would generate between $10 million and $15 million in sales annually. With the town’s sales tax rate at 2.88%, the town could see between $300,000-$400,000 in sales tax revenue.
Golembewski said he is not opposed to medical marijuana, but believes a recreational dispensary would lead to more teens smoking as they could easily buy it from someone 21 and older. He said he does not want to go to the park and smell marijuana.
Buntin said as the grandmother of four adopted children, all of whose biological parents were drug addicts, she is against drug use, including marijuana.
She said there are consequences to marijuana as it often leads to users trying harder drugs. “There is collateral damage,” she said. “Yes, it is tested and regulated, but it is still marijuana.”
Attorney Lindsay Schube, also with Gammage and Burnham, said her clients would in no way promote illegal drug use. She said all products sold would be highly regulated and tested.
Councilor Suzy Tubbs-Avakian asked what had happened to the employees of Untamed Herbs after it closed. Ronnie Kassab with JARS Cannabis said most are still working at the facility, doing production work. He said they would likely hire additional help once the recreational dispensary opens.
The council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the item again during a second public hearing Aug. 12.