FLORENCE — Despite objections from county attorney Lando Voyles, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve a permit Wednesday for a medical marijuana dispensary near Maricopa.
Last month, the board voted unanimously to deny a permit for a dispensary in Dudleyville, an unincorporated area in the eastern part of the county.
The supervisors didn’t vote against the Dudleyville dispensary because they disapproved of medical marijuana; several factors were involved.
Pete Rios, supervisor of District 1, which includes Dudleyville, made sure those in the audience at Wednesday’s meeting understood why he voted in favor of one dispensary and against another. He said the reasons why he voted against the facility in Dudleyville included poor location in an area where there had already been many serious traffic accidents; the inadequate security of the building; insufficient public notice by the applicant; and overwhelming opposition from residents in the area.
“The community opposition was there, and I don’t see that in the Maricopa site,” he said.
The permit approved Wednesday is for the Ponderosa Botanical Care dispensary, located about eight miles south of Maricopa in a strip mall on the south side of Papago Road near Raceway Bar and Grill.
In a presentation to the board, attorney Jordan Rose of the Rose Law Group, who represented applicant Clary Childers, said the County received 44 letters of support from area residents and three in opposition.
“Whether you voted for the voter-approved law or not, this is the type of medical marijuana dispensary owner you want – somebody who’s very medically-inclined,” she said. “They’re responsible, and they’ve proven that in another location that they’ve been operating in Oro Valley.”
While there was very little opposition from area residents, one person who was vehemently against the dispensary was Thad Stanfield, board chairman of the M.A.S.H. Coalition, an anti-substance abuse organization in the area. He argued it could negatively affect a youth population looking to purchase medical marijuana from cardholders.
“The amount of youth using marijuana in the M.A.S.H. (Maricopa, Ak-Chin, Stanfield, Hidden Valley) area is 13 percent; that’s the second-highest percentage in all of Pinal County,” he said. “Please don’t put a dispensary in the middle of the M.A.S.H. area.”
Voyles sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors last week and urged them to not issue any permits for medical marijuana dispensaries due to the possibility of federal prosecution. At Wednesday’s meeting, he reiterated his concern about being in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Rose said no state or local employee has faced federal legal action because of medical marijuana dispensaries, which are located in 18 states and Washington, D.C.
Voyles said he spoke to officials in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and said he was told the federal government hasn’t yet decided whether or not it will prosecute state and local employees for involvement with medical marijuana. However, he said he was told that a decision was coming by the end of this year.
Voyles also recommended the board deny the permit because he said the facility is in an area with significant drug trafficking activity.
District 2 supervisor Cheryl Chase, the lone “no” vote, agreed with Voyles’ assessment.
District 4 supervisor Anthony Smith, who represents the area and is the former mayor of Maricopa, said having a safe, secure medical marijuana facility is far better than the current alternative. Any person with a legal medical marijuana card who doesn’t live within a 25-mile radius of a dispensary can grow up to 12 plants for personal use, and the practice is unregulated.
“Having a safe place for people who are cardholders to obtain the product is much preferable to those 326 cardholders growing 12 plants, and the caregivers associated with it, in an uncontrolled environment,” he said.
Rose said the homegrown marijuana operations would come to a halt once the dispensaries are open. She argued it’s a much safer process to have the dispensary in operation.
“That’s an astounding amount of plants – 3,792 plants allowed to be harvested six times a year with no oversight,” she said.
Childers agreed the dispensary is a better option than having hundreds of people in the area growing their own marijuana.
“If they know what they’re doing, they can grow 72 [plants] every 60 days, and that is not controlled,” he said.
Maricopa resident Julie Stanfill sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors prior to the meeting and expressed concern that some cardholders will still be able to grow marijuana legally even after the dispensary opens.
District 5 supervisor Todd House said he was “skeptical” of the safety and security of the dispensary until he saw the facility in Oro Valley, which is also run by Childers.
“This is a professional location; it looks like a doctor’s office,” he said. “I feel very confident that this location is going to do everything they say they will.
“We have to have a reason other than ‘I don’t like pot’ to say ‘No, this can’t go through,’ and I’m having a hard time finding a reason why this can’t go through.”
Smith toured the facility near Maricopa and said he was impressed with the security features, including video cameras, bulletproof glass in the waiting room and a 975-pound safe – where all the marijuana will be stored – bolted to the floor.
“I visited the site, and I visited a similar site in a strip mall in Oro Valley,” he said. “I observed the security arrangement, the operational procedures, and I tell you that the amount of security, I believe, is going to provide a secure environment for not only the workers in the facility but (also) the cardholders.”