The debate about appropriate distances between marijuana stores and other public areas was the focus of discussion during two county meetings this week where officials debated regulating recreational marijuana stores.
Ultimately, the Santa Cruz County Regulatory Agency approved an ordinance allowing recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries to operate with redefined buffer zones in the non-legally binding areas of the county.
During a public hearing with the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday, Director Frank Dillon said staff had updated the county’s existing medical marijuana regulation and passed new regulations in response to the passage of recreational marijuana.
The original draft of the new ordinance envisaged a distance of one mile between each marijuana dispensary and a distance of half a mile from schools, churches and parks.
“We have already received several applicants so we are confident that the proposed regulations are not too restrictive,” Dillon told commissioners, adding that only two recreational pharmacy licenses would be issued for Santa Cruz County.
(In fact, Santa Cruz County will receive two recreational marijuana licenses in an early round of state licenses with applications being accepted by March 9. However, more marijuana stores could move in the area if local businesses licensed through social equity ownership program that is expected to start this year or future licensing rounds.)
However, following opposition from interested parties and some commissioners, these distances were each reduced by half – to half a mile between pharmacies and a quarter of a mile between pharmacies and the areas mentioned.
Lauren Niehaus of Harvest Health and Recreation, Tempe, was the first to speak out against the initial regulation proposal at the P&Z meeting, noting that the county’s medical marijuana regulation did not include distance restrictions between parks and places of worship.
“From our reading this appears to be more restrictive than the original medical prescription,” said Niehaus. “It also makes it far more difficult to find a property that is suitable for pharmacies within the county.”
The county approved its medical marijuana ordinance in early 2011 after Arizona voters approved the medicinal use of the plant in the November 2010 general election. A decade later, in November 2020, state voters legalized marijuana for recreational use.
While state law legalized the use and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and allowed pharmacies to sell the drug for recreational use, it left local governments room to limit the sale and use of marijuana within their city limits. In Santa Cruz County, the city of Nogales opted to ban recreational businesses while the city of Patagonia chose to admit them under their own finely tuned prescription.
At the county government level, officials opted for a course similar to that of Patagonia.
Even so, Damien Kennedy, who has worked as a warehouse manager for growing cannabis in the Amado area and wants to open a store, said the county’s new regulations were too restrictive.
“The distance of a mile just doesn’t make sense,” he said during the meeting on Monday. “You are preventing Amado from growing in this industry by allowing it to.”
P&Z Commissioner Guillermo Valencia also tended to take a business-friendly approach, saying he supported the new changes except for the removal rules.
“I am very concerned and I am not in favor of approving them by being more restrictive on these sites and the restrictions we are placing on them,” he said. “We have to develop more jobs, we have to develop more companies.”
Dillon clarified that the county was not “required” to maintain the same standards as the existing medical ordinance.
He added that it is important to strike a balance between allowing marijuana recreational companies to move into Santa Cruz County and protecting existing facilities within the community.
Commissioner Marcelino Varona Jr., which led to Nogales’ indictment of banning pharmacies In December, as a city council, he initially supported the district’s proposed draft and said the restrictions were good for the community.
“I don’t think either of those distances is unreasonable at all,” said Varona. “Are we getting too engaged by the industry itself? Do we feel pressured? “
In the end, Commissioner Randy Heiss proposed a compromise between the two sides by halving the distance – a move that all commissioners could leave behind.
“That doesn’t mean a bad look Santa Cruz County is trying to be overly restrictive,” said Heiss.
The fact that the approved recreational marijuana ordinance did not reflect the existing rules for medical pots meant that the medical marijuana ordinance also needed to be updated as the two types of businesses must have identical regulations, Dillion said. And so, on Tuesday morning, the two measures were presented to the county board of supervisors for review and a second public hearing on the matter.
During the call to the public, several people spoke out in favor of the proposed regulation. However, Jim Kennedy, who said he previously operated a medical marijuana facility in Santa Cruz County with no restrictions on distance from churches, was critical.
“We’d like to reopen our facility … but there are currently churches that are within (1,320) feet that it wasn’t a problem when we previously lived with the ward,” said Kennedy, who appears to be unrelated to the Amado producer is related to Damien Kennedy, who spoke at the P&Z meeting on Monday.
In the end, Dillon insisted that regulators could re-examine and amend the regulation at any time. However, if the ordinance were rejected, it would prevent new marijuana stores from opening in the county until another ordinance was passed.
Supervisor Manuel Ruiz turned his attention to another aspect, asking how sales tax revenue would reach the county since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Dillon said that according to an analysis by an interested company, a single pharmacy would likely employ 25 full-time employees and gross approximately $ 7 million per year, all of which would be subject to sales tax and the additional 16 percent excise tax.
While the county’s sales tax applies to recreational marijuana sales in its jurisdiction, the higher state excise tax of 16 percent doesn’t flow straight from stores to the county’s coffers. Instead, the excise tax money is redistributed by a statewide fund, meaning Santa Cruz County can expect roughly the same amount of excise tax in the area, with or without marijuana stores.
All three regulators – Ruiz, Bruce Bracker and Rudy Molera – unanimously approved the regulation.
“This is a regulation that needs to be passed as written,” said Bracker, adding that the board would be willing to re-examine the issue with any future changes as necessary.
(Additional coverage by Nick Phillips.)