In anticipation that voters approve a state ballot initiative Tuesday, the Oro Valley Town Council on Wednesday, Oct. 27 approved a set of zoning rules that would govern where medical marijuana dispensaries could locate.

The council unanimously approved a set of zoning rules that would restrict medical marijuana facilities to commercial zones.

Local governments would have little control over the dispensary operations, and would not license or regulate them. But they can enact land-use codes designed to limit where the dispensaries and cultivation areas can operate. Many communities have begun to do so.

Oro Valley based its zoning rules largely on those passed by the Pima County Board of Supervisors earlier last month.

The rules limit marijuana-based operations to commercial zones. Dispensaries and cultivation centers also would have to set up shop at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches, daycare facilities and libraries. The dispensaries themselves would have to maintain a 2,000-foot buffer between one another.

"Why are we rushing?" Oro Valley Councilman Lou Waters asked.

Town Attorney Tobin Rosen replied that County Attorney Barbara LaWall has been vocal in wanting local governments to enact zoning rules prior to passage of the ballot question. Marana has adopted an ordinance regulating medical marijuana if Proposition 203 passes.

In Oro Valley, the possible locations for dispensaries and grow operations would be few.

The facilities could open in portions of the Oro Valley Marketplace, Steam Pump Village and the Rooney Ranch Shopping Center, based on the zoning restrictions. Property owners would have to allow the operations to open in their shopping centers.

Portions of the Oracle Crossings shopping center also would be eligible, along with some commercial sections in Rancho Vistoso.

Councilwoman Mary Snider asked what would happen if the measure failed at the polls. Rosen said the zoning ordinance would remain part of town code. The rules would be in place if voters passed another medical marijuana measure in the future.

Oro Valley resident Kimberly Haslett finds the regulations too restrictive, and she places much of blame on County Attorney LaWall, who has been on a campaign against medical marijuana.

The county attorney urged voters to reject Prop 203 in a guest editorial in The Explorer on Oct. 13, saying, "Prop 203 is bad medicine for Arizona. Vote 'No' on Prop 203."

"These things that are being spread are causing fear," Haslett said. "The people who would be coming to these dispensaries are your neighbors."

A stay-at-home mom, Haslett said she intends to open a medical marijuana dispensary if the initiative passes. But she said LaWall's constant references to California in public discussions about medical marijuana have fostered anxiety among residents.

"Pima County keeps wanting to make it like California," Haslett said.

The Golden State has become the epicenter of the medical marijuana movement, having legalized the drug for patients several years ago. While California blazed the trail in medical marijuana, it became the target of much criticism along the way.

The biggest concern stems from the relative ease with which anyone in California can get a doctor's recommendation for marijuana. LaWall cites this in presentations she's made before the board of supervisors and the Tucson City Council.

The county attorney's presentation shows, for example, sign spinners in California advertising for doctors ready to write medical marijuana recommendations for walk-in patients.

Deputy County Attorney Amelia Cramer reinforced the point at the Oro Valley Town Council meeting last week, saying that some 97 percent of California medical marijuana users claim chronic pain as a symptom.

"I would point out that the Arizona proposition, like Colorado and others, has chronic pain listed as a condition," Cramer said.

On Tuesday, voters across the state cast their ballots. Included among the numerous initiatives was a measure to legalize marijuana use for specific medical conditions. The initiative allows for the establishment of a network of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers. The law allows for one marijuana dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in the state. Under the formula there could be a total of 120 dispensaries throughout the state and a guarantee on one for each county. The ratio is based on statewide pharmacy totals, not a community-by-community basis.

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