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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Medical marijuana restrictions debated

The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the staff recommendations to place tight restrictions on zoning if the Medical Marijuana Act passes in the November election.

Proposition 203, the Medical Marijuana Act, identifies illnesses that would qualify patients to use marijuana.

It was placed on the ballot by citizen initiative and follows 14 other states that have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Pima County Attorney, Barbara LaWall, presented the staff recommendations from the Pima County Development Services to the Board of Supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting.

She stated that Proposition 203 does not require a pharmacy to dispense the medical marijuana; therefore it will not be distributed like any other medication.

It permits that the drug be grown at two locations: on site at a dispensary and at one off-site location per  every dispensary.

There are no limitations on quantity LaWall said, adding that the staff anticipates a high demand from the public.

Those patients who qualify will be able to purchase 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana every 14 days and will require a card containing their personal information and tracking number so the state can monitor how much marijuana they have been given.

If the proposition becomes law, LaWall said the staff wants to ensure that the marijuana dispensaries will not be located near drug-free schools, drug-free rehabilitation centers or allowed in residential neighborhoods. She said they should only be in commercial areas where they will be easier to monitor, and they should have reasonable limitations on their hour of operations.

“”To the extent that the commission altered the language to make it less restrictive, I would urge the staff recommendations which are more restrictive,”” LaWall said. “”We can loosen it up later, but it cannot be tightened up after the fact.””

She said, for instance, the limitation on square footage in houses should be 250 square feet, rather than the recommended 500 square feet by the commission. She said that is about the size of a hotel room and plenty of space to grow marijuana plants.

LaWall recommends 1,000 feet between a dispensary and a school zone to ensure the safety of children.

She also urges the prohibition of offsite delivery by marijuana dispensers. According to LaWall, pharmacys are not permitted to deliver medications; people need to sign for them.

“”It cannot be dropped off at a house where a child or unauthorized person can have access to it,”” LaWall said.

The proposition requires cultivation of marijuana to be in a locked and secure facility such as a closet, a room or any building that can be locked, according to LaWall. It does not authorize outdoor cultivation for growth.

“”We should restrict the cultivation to inside a building. This will protect neighborhood residents,””

LaWall stated, “”Different cities have been flooded with dispensaries. In Los Angeles by 2009, there were 545 marijuana dispensaries which outnumbered the number of Starbucks and Subway sandwich shops combined.””

Without local zoning ordinances in place, Proposition 203 permits dispensaries and cultivation sites in residential neighborhoods, less than two blocks from any school and adjacent to a library, daycare center — anywhere children congregate, said LaWall.

“”Without zoning restrictions we can see that this is really a prescription for disaster.””

There are also no restrictions on who can be employed by marijuana dispensers, she said, except for felons who have committed crimes within the past ten years.

Another issue that concerns the staff, she said, is that law enforcement is forbidden from inspecting or monitoring any marijuana dispensaries.

“”The time to act is now,”” she said.

Jon Gettel, director of the local chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is a medical marijuana patient.

He spoke at the meeting, explaining that medical marijuana has helped him recover from an injury that happened 10 years ago in a near fatal car accident.

“”I had a tremendously difficult recovery learning how to walk again,”” he said. “”Doctors prescribed serious narcotic pain killers that did not work.””

He said marijuana is a safe and effective treatment.

“”By restricting it to zoning, we are restricting this to smaller commercial areas and we have to make sure we are out making it available to patients who need it,”” Gettel said.

He said that those who have a serious illness will not be able to drive to the dispensaries, and they will then suffer.

Program Coordinator for the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, Tom Hayden, said he supports LaWall and shares the same concerns she addressed.

Hayden said Arizona has the most drug trafficking organizations and that people have to be prepared for potential corruption to occur if the proposition passes. “”There will be violence, and we can expect that,”” Hayden said.

Kathleen Robinson, assistant chief of police for the Tucson Police Department said, “”Law enforcement has great concern about this ordinance and us being able to regulate the number of dispensaries in Tucson and Pima County.”” She added that half a dozen dispensaries in Pima County may create problems, being so close to the border and drug activity. “”We support Barbara LaWall and staff regulations,”” Robinson stated. “”We are concerned about the city’s safety.””

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