SIERRA VISTA — Whether it’s for medical purposes, for recreation or both, city council members on Tuesday said they would allow a marijuana dispensary in Sierra Vista following the passage of Proposition 207 in November.

While recreational pot became legal in Arizona on Nov. 3, cities and towns across the state are considering whether to allow marijuana dispensaries to open for business within their geographical boundaries.

Even if a particular municipality prohibited such a business, it wouldn’t matter.

The law allows individuals 21 and older to possess, purchase, consume, process, manufacture and/or transport one ounce or less of marijuana.

People also are allowed to harvest up to six plants in their homes if at least one person in the household is 21 or older; individuals may harvest 12 plants at home if there are two people in the residence who are 21 or older. The plants must be in an enclosed area under lock and key.

The law, however, prohibits anyone from smoking pot in public places (such as buildings open to the public), open spaces such as parks and sidewalks or in any moving vehicle.

In a presentation to council members Tuesday at their work session, senior planner Jeff Pregler told the panel that the ordinance could prohibit “the consumption, possession and sale of pot on city-owned properties.”

The council Tuesday was 5-2 in favor of allowing such facilities and now city staff must craft an ordinance that will come back before the City Council for a final vote.

“We have citizens in our town who use marijuana,” said councilwoman Sarah Pacheco. “Now they can do it legally.”

Both Pacheco and councilwoman Carolyn Umphrey said the reasons they were supporting approval of a dispensary is because people voted for it.

“The majority of the people in Sierra Vista voted for this,” Pacheco said.

Mayor Rick Mueller, who along with new council member Gregory L. Johnson want to prohibit dispensaries, smiled at Pacheco and said: “People are not always right when they vote.”

Mueller said he considers Sierra Vista as a “federal city” because of its relationship to Fort Huachuca and because many people in the city are federal employees. 

For his part, Johnson said he believes the city is “heading down a slippery slope.”

Regardless, city staff will now draft an ordinance based on what the city council requested Tuesday. That means the city will allow a dispensary with a dual license, or a stand-alone. A dual license dispensary would serve both medical and recreational purposes, Pregler said. A stand-alone dispensary could be either medical or recreational.

So far, two individuals have expressed interest in opening a medical dispensary in Sierra Vista, and about half a dozen have expressed an interest in opening a recreational one, Pregler said.

The license for the business is issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services, but the city must submit its zoning regulations to the state, Pregler said. Additionally, the person chosen for the license also must apply for a business license with the city.

At the moment, the state is issuing only two licenses per county for dispensaries. Cochise County already has one dispensary in Bisbee. The state plans to offer 26 more licenses, Pregler said, but it’s not clear how those will be distributed.

Once Sierra Vista’s ordinance is drafted, it will go before the Planning and Zoning Commission with a public hearing. After that it goes back to the City Council with another public hearing. Then the city must have a 30-day public comment period. Following that the ordinance returns to the City Council for the final vote, Pregler said.

In other business at Tuesday’s work session, City Manager Chuck Potucek informed council members there are 18 positive cases of COVID-19 among city employees, the highest number since the pandemic started last year, Potucek said.

As a result of that and the increase in cases across the state and Cochise County, Potucek said most city building lobbies will be closed, to include City hall and the Pedro Castro Maintenance Center.

“We have to go back to what we did in the beginning,” Potucek said at the meeting.

In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, city spokeswoman Judy Hector said the lobby of the police department would stay open, but fingerprinting services have been suspended. The Oscar Yrun Community Center, The Cove and the Ethel H. Berger Center have been closed because of a shortage of staff who have been in self-quarantine. The lobby at Vista Transit meanwhile, remains open.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that Tuesday's action by the council was a consensus to direct city staff, not an official vote.