FLORENCE — Following about an hour of testimony, the Florence Planning and Zoning Commission voted to forward an unfavorable recommendation to the Town Council regarding an application to operate a medical marijuana dispensary.
Rakesh Pahwa, a Phoenix businessman who owns Healing Healthcare 3 Inc., applied for a conditional use permit to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at 801 N. Pinal Parkway. The site formerly was occupied by Big-O Tires. It is zoned as B-2 highway business commercial.
Commission Chairman Jeff Wooley made the motion for an unfavorable recommendation, seconded by Vice Chairman Larry Putrick. The vote was 4-0, with member James Petty absent.
“As a planning and zoning commission, it is our responsibility not to decide what is right or wrong for Florence but to decide what is right or wrong for the land use it’s being applied for,” Wooley said. “In no way, shape or form is P&Z saying that we’re against a medical marijuana dispensary or that we’re for one.”
Consideration of the proposed dispensary is expected to be on the Town Council’s July 15 agenda.
Pahwa said he had a fair opportunity to state his case for the dispensary.
“But there was a lot of prejudice in the town against marijuana. I’m not a drug user. We are doing what the state wanted us to do — open a medical dispensary to give the medicine to the patient.”
In his comments to the commission, Pahwa said the dispensary would be “highly secure, and that only the patients would be allowed on the premises.”
Pahwa said there would only be a small sign and that the dispensary would only be open “to patients who are able to obtain the medicine as prescribed to them by a physician.”
“We are not here to promote illegal drug traffic. We just want to serve a need to the community,” Pahwa said.
Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles disagreed, citing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration determination that marijuana is a schedule 1 drug.
“Schedule 1 means (a drug) has no medical value whatsoever,” Voyles said. “This also violates your own city ordinance — chapter 152 — which says that (the dispensary) cannot be within 660 feet of any public library or any religious facility.
“You have the Behavioral Systems Southwest, which, in part, is a religious facility, and you also have within 660 feet the public law library over at the courthouse,” Voyles said.
The “site is going on its fifth year of sitting there vacant and not looking very attractive,” Mark Eckhoff, town community development director, said.
The proposed site is surrounded by McDonald’s, Florence SuperStop, a Chevron station and a chiropractic office. A number of correctional facilities are nearby, along with the Pinal County Courthouse and Sheriff’s Office.
“The code says, ‘it may be appropriate in certain areas of the zoning district, but not in certain areas,’” Eckhoff said. “There are guidelines that we follow, as there’s a heavy compatibility component.”
“We’re not talking about the law, because the voters of Arizona passed it,” Eckhoff said. “After the law went into effect, it allowed municipalities to write provisions into their zoning code addressing where these types of facilities would be located at.”
Casa Grande businessman Robert Souza, who owns the McDonald’s franchise in Florence, objected to the location, which is next to his restaurant.
“McDonald’s has a well-deserved reputation as a family restaurant. This is a terrible location,” Souza said.