BISBEE — With the Arizona voters’ approval of the sale of recreational marijuana under Proposition 207, the county is looking to change zoning regulations to accommodate retail distribution, cultivation, infusion and testing facilities.
State law allows adults 21 and up to possess and use specified amounts of marijuana. It allows a person to grow a limited number of plants under lock and key away from public view, said Community Development Director Daniel Coxworth in a work session Tuesday with Cochise County supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby.
It also permits the expungement of certain prior marijuana related convictions and records.
The Arizona Department of Health Services is the regulatory authority that issues licenses to marijuana establishments for the sale of recreational marijuana and caps the number of establishments, Coxworth said.
Arizona is currently in the application period which began on Jan. 1 and continues through March 9 for currently registered medical marijuana dispensaries so they can apply for recreational licenses. Currently, Cochise County only has one medical marijuana disbursement facility and it is in the city limits of Bisbee, Coxworth said. There are nine cultivation facilities within the county.
“We see marijuana as a crop and have to look at it as strictly a land use issue,” he said.
English wanted to add churches to the setback qualifications and suggested the setbacks be increased from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.
“It’s kind of a glaring omission not to have churches in there,” she said.
Coxworth pointed out such facilities have to go through the Special Use Permit process. This allows the county to notify neighbors within 500 feet of the proposed marijuana facility of the action. But, in reality, he said the department often goes to 1,000 feet or more for notification of property owners.
Judd agreed with English saying 300 to 500 feet isn’t enough distance for people in her district, the majority of which did not support the legalization measure. Even though the Planning and Zoning Commission may hear complaints from people, it does not mean the people are heard and the special use permit gets tossed. She suggested holding community meetings.
Judd also pointed out there are Boys and Girls Clubs, summer camps and other activities related to children and youth that need to be considered in the SUP process.
Coxworth told her sometimes the applicants will just move on to a new location if there is too much opposition to the SUP.
Crosby said, “I’m sure it will cause more problems than it’s worth.”
Judd noted, “I see lots of wide open places throughout the county and there’s no reason to put them all so near to each other.”
A map showed there were a number of medical marijuana culture facilities and most were in the northern area of the county.
Coxworth said the industry needed roads, water and power like any agricultural crop, so those factors determine where a facility can be placed. However, he said he would look at separation of facilities.
“It’s also a property rights issue,” pointed out English. “Property owners may want to sell their lands in the Willcox area. So, it’s not fair to restrict who someone can sell their property to.”
Coxworth said he would formulate the supervisor’s recommendations and take the zoning code changes to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review. After a decision by the commissioners is made, it will come back before Board of Supervisors for final approval.