Zoned Out: Local Municipalities React to Prop 207 Passing

Reaction to the passage of Prop 207 has been swift in some quarters, with several Pima County towns passing emergency resolutions aimed at restricting recreational cannabis sales in the coming year.

Since mid-October, municipalities including Sahuarita, Marana and Oro Valley have quickly acted to limit legal cannabis sales in their respective jurisdictions. But the City of Tucson has opted for a more welcoming approach to its zoning ordinance in preparation for legal weed sales coming in 2021.

Discussions about updates to the Unified Development Code Related to Medical and Adult Use Marijuana Dispensaries began in August as Tucson City Council wrestled with a potential emergency resolution to accommodate health department COVID-19 pandemic protocols for social distancing in Tucson dispensaries.

During a Sept. 9 study session, council considered the possibility of expanding practices currently allowed during the pandemic that include curbside pickup, home delivery and expanded lobby size.

A stakeholder meeting with local dispensary owners and a representative from the Arizona Dispensary Association in October determined that additional measures could be taken, such as allowing the temporary use of unused interior space to further expand lobbies as well as allowing the use of existing drive-thru windows.

Currently, dispensaries are limited to 4,000-square-feet, with 25% of that space allowable for a lobby. Drive-thru windows are not allowed, even if the building in question has one left over from a previous business.

The allowances gained the support of state Rep. Andres Cano and Congressman Ruben Gallego, who both advocated for temporary changes in letters to the city.

“Limited spacing can no longer effectively protect private patient consultation as required by federal law, nor [is] it consistent with safe social distancing,” Cano wrote in a Sept. 8 letter. “Therefore, expanding the potential footprint of these dispensaries is worthy of consideration, and a policy priority that I support.”

Gallego wrote that he “fully support[s Council’s] willingness to take a close look at the current size limitations on marijuana dispensaries that may hinder social distancing between patients.”

“Given that many of these patients are immunocompromised and particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, I urge you and the Tucson Council to quickly give this agenda item full and fair consideration,” Gallego added. “In this environment, it is especially important that zoning requirements don’t inadvertently put patients vulnerable to being infected with COVID-19.”

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During a Nov. 17 study session, Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin determined that at council’s direction, city staff could temporarily suspend portions of the UDC related to lobby size and drive-thrus without the need for a proclamation.

The City Council unanimously supported the action in a 6-0 voice vote.

Additionally, the City Council tasked the Planning and Development Services Department to update the UDC in response to the passage of Prop 207. That work should be accomplished by the April 5, 2021, deadline for the Arizona Department of Health Services to have recreational cannabis laws in place.

Key items that will be considered for amendment will include: parking; dispensary size; lobby size; layout and dual-use facilities and drive-thrus.

While the City of Tucson worked to accommodate the local cannabis economy, other municipalities were in the process of restricting recreational sales as much as is allowed under the new law. Prop 207 allows local jurisdictions to create their own rules around recreational weed, but they are not allowed to create ordinances that are more restrictive than what is currently allowed for medical dispensaries.

To that end, Sahuarita jumped ahead of the election by enacting a town-wide ban in late October (although the town is home to a medical marijuana dispensary, Hana Meds), and in the wake of the election two northwest towns followed suit.

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, the Town Council of Oro Valley unanimously approved an emergency declaration to ban single-use marijuana establishments, marijuana sales on town property and use of the drug in public places and open spaces (such as town parks). It also bans testing facilities and door-to-door sales.

Likewise Marana approved an emergency resolution to update the town’s regulations on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

Marana’s emergency resolution bans single-use marijuana establishments, marijuana sales on town property, use of the drug in public places and open spaces (such as town parks), facilities that test the potency or contamination and door-to-door sales.

The town’s two medical marijuana dispensaries—Botanica and Nature Med —will be allowed to sell recreational marijuana should they receive dual licenses. Any future dispensaries wanting in Marana will need to be dual licensed to sell to customers without a MMJ card.

Managing Editor Austin Counts contributed to this report.

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