Even before Arizona voters decide whether to legalize medicinal marijuana, Mesa is setting up limits on where dispensaries could set up shop in the city.
The City Council will limit the shops to commercial districts and restrict them from being within certain distances of each other, churches, schools, parks and more.
City leaders are drafting rules in anticipation voters will approve Proposition 203 on Nov. 2, which allows Arizonans to buy small amounts of marijuana from state-regulated shops if they have a doctor's recommendation.
The City Council on Thursday discussed getting the rules in place before the shops could open in March, but its members were hardly enthusiastic.
Councilman Dave Richins said he objected to allowing the shops in commercial areas because the city can't get sales taxes from marijuana.
Mayor Scott Smith joked about taxing related items.
"Can we collect sales tax on medicinal bongs?" Smith cracked.
Prop. 203 would allow cities to regulate the shops but they cannot prohibit them.
Mesa's proposed rules would all permit the shops in commercial districts that allow larger shopping centers. Also the shops could open in many of the commercial properties that happen to line much of Country Club Drive and Main Street.
That triggered concerns shops could concentrate where the city has worked to revitalize areas. Richins said he feared the blight of payday loan stores could be replaced by the blight of medicinal marijuana shops.
But Mesa believes relatively few shops would open. Prop. 203 limits the shops to one for every 10 pharmacies in Arizona, which translates to about 120 storefronts. The Department of Health Services, which would regulate the industry, has said it will guide the stores to locate proportionate to the state's population. Smith figured that would lead to about 10 shops in Mesa.
The city would limit them from residential, industrial and employment areas. Also, they could not locate within 2,400 feet of other medicinal marijuana shops and drug/alcohol rehab facilities. They would have to stay 1,200 feet from churches, parks, open spaces in homeowner associations and libraries. They could be no closer than 500 feet from schools or group homes for the handicapped.
The limits will block the shops from opening in vast areas, zoning administrator Gordon Sheffield said. He showed a map of land uses near Power and McKellips roads in Mesa, and the distance requirements from surrounding churches, schools and parks left only two small slivers where the stores could open in the large shopping centers at that intersection.
Marijuana growers would be limited to indoor facilities of 3,000 square feet. That could lead to unintended consequences, said Ryan Hurley of the Community Cannabis Clinic. Growing facilities need to be larger he said, which could lead to a larger number of places where the plants are cultivated - and to more transporting it across the community.
Also, he raised concerns over Mesa's proposal to limit shops to 2,500 square feet. Smaller shops tend to have more problems he said, while larger ones have greater investment and more professional management.
Hurley said the Arizona proposition was drafted to avoid many of the problems that arose from medicinal marijuana shops in California, where large numbers of stores opened with suspicion that many were doling out the substance for recreational purposes.
The industry doesn't want a black eye, Hurley said, and supports Mesa's approach.
"I think we're generally in agreement with most of the provisions," Hurley said.
The City Council anticipates it will formally adopt the regulations in January.