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Phoenix grapples with pot laws

PHOENIX — The City Council on Monday failed to vote on a revised ordinance that would regulate commercial grows of medical and recreational marijuana within city limits as members wrestled over issues of size and location.

“What would be the most protection for the city and yet be reasonable?” Mayor Jeff Bellah asked during a discussion that looked at growing and selling recreational marijuana in the same location, potential loss of state tax revenue, bond requirements and other issues.

A moratorium on commercial grows is in place. In July, the council passed revisions to land-use codes that detail where marijuana can be grown and prescribe methods so that the grows do not become a nuisance for neighbors.

The proposed changes would bring a city ordinance to regulate commercial cannabis facilities, adopted in December 2014, into conformity with planning codes.

A limit of 1,000 square feet was placed on commercial grows in the proposal. The land-use regulations passed in July limited the sites to 5,000 square feet. Those regulations would need to be changed to match the ordinance.

As written, the ordinance would have allowed for both cultivation and retail distribution at the same site. Separate licenses would be required for each operation.

“I thought we wanted to keep growing and selling separate,” said Councilwoman Carolyn Bartell, referring to a previous council study session on the matter.

City Attorney Ryan Kirchoff said enactment of the proposed ordinance could suspend the moratorium, as a later approved policy would supersede in a court challenge.

“Our moratorium is defensible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone challenges it,” said Kirchoff.

Several council members questioned whether there was a way to have the ordinance yet still keep the moratorium in place.

“They want to stay with that (moratorium), not knowing what the state will do,” Councilman Terry Helfrich said Tuesday morning. He is opposed to commercial grows in town.

Another provision in the draft ordinance spells out that recreational growers at residences do not need to purchase licenses. However, they would need to get zoning clearance from the Planning Department before establishing a grow site.

Planning regulations require all recreational grows to be 100 square feet or smaller and indoors. Growing of medical marijuana for personal use is also limited to 100 square feet, but 35 of those feet can be outdoors.

Commercial grows would be limited to the highway commercial zone and must be 250 feet from parks and residential zones and 1,000 feet from schools and other commercial marijuana operations.

Under the guidelines and zoning requirements, there are only three areas in town that could accommodate grows or sales activity. Those are east of Interstate 5, the area around The Shoppes at Exit 24 and south of Blue Heron Park east of Highway 99, said City Manager Steve Dahl.

“We are largely a residential community,” said Dahl.

Other proposed ordinance changes would clarify definitions and detail license requirements.

In other business, councilors asked David Zimmerly of Sierra Santa Fe Corp. about the chip seal road project his firm did in Phoenix Heights. Residents of the area have complained about the outcome, although a hired consultant praised the result.

Councilors agreed with Bellah that they didn’t want to go over the issue again after taking it up at several council sessions. Bellah did say that cracks in the roadways would be sealed.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.