With the possibility of only six medical marijuana dispensaries allowed for Cochise County and thinking that most of them would be in the more urbanized areas, the county Board of Supervisors are choosing to keep zoning regulations relatively simple.
Growing the plants that help chronic and fatal diseases such as cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and HIV-AIDS could be done in any RU-4 or larger rural designation, in light or heavy industrial zones and in general business, explained Turisk.
The only people who can grow medical marijuana are dispensaries, which must be non-profit, patients and caregivers, added Turisk. “No third-party farming unassociated with a dispensary will be allowed. We’ve already had several calls about that.”
One option was to allow the dispensaries in certain zones, but only with plans for site development that is consistent with county standards, continued Turisk. Business owners would also have to apply for a special use permit in order to set up shop and would have to go through rigorous inspections to insure that all safety precautions are taken as required by state law. Though the supervisors could specify setback requirements, that could be discussed at the special use hearing at the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings.
The county could also just follow the regulations as established by the state and consider the dispensaries as retail plant nurseries, Turisk added.
As for caregivers and patients who want to grow their own, that could be done in any zoning district with four acres or more as a permitted accessory as long as homes are located at least 25 miles from the nearest dispensary, noted Turisk.
P&Z Commissioner Jim Martzke agreed that the special use permit process and following state requirements would work for the county.
Fellow commissioner Gary Brauchla agreed with that and said growing it may be better for rural areas than urban areas.
One of the main concerns with any regulations or codes is that someone has to enforce them. That job will go to the Arizona Department of Health Services and, if necessary, the county sheriff’s office. Chief Deputy Rod Rothrock feared that people growing their own could be victimized by criminals. He suggested requiring an alarm system.
Turisk said the Sheriff’s Office would be notified of the special use permit to get the department’s opinion on serving the facility.
The P&Z Commission will get the first look at the draft code for dispensaries and off-site growing by dispensaries at the March 9 meeting, according to Turisk. Then it will come before the supervisors for final approval.
The Arizona Department of health oversees the program and plans to release final rules on March 28, which will take effect on April 15. Applications for dispensaries registration certificates will be accepted beginning in May.