Scottsdale City Council votes to tighten medical marijuana regulations

(file photo)

(file photo)

Scottsdale City Council has begun the process to amend the city’s zoning code that regulates the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana within city limits.

At a May 17 public hearing, the local governing body discussed an amendment to the city’s zoning code that defines the criteria for medical marijuana operations within certain zoning districts.

The city allows medical marijuana uses, including dispensaries, in only a few zoning districts — industrial park, commercial office, and special campus.

With the adoption of the city’s existing regulations on medical marijuana uses in 2011, these districts were chosen based on their predisposition to cater toward office and medical office-type uses, according to city documents.

Medical marijuana dispensaries essentially function in the same way a medical office and pharmacy would function. In each of these zoning districts, a conditional use permit is required to demonstrate compliance with specific criteria, including separation and compatibility requirements.

Scottsdale Senior Planner Bryan Cluff presented council with six potential changes the city could consider in regard to where medical marijuana facilities can operate. Included in the presentation was a comparison to eight other Valley communities, of which, Scottsdale, on average, appears to be less restrictive than most other surrounding jurisdictions.

“Some interesting items of note came from that research,” said Mr. Cluff during the May 17 public meeting.

“The average separation between medical marijuana uses of these eight Valley cities is approximately 3,700 feet and the city of Scottsdale’s is currently 1,320. Also, the average protection for schools among the other valley cities was 1,220 feet, with city of Scottsdale’s currently at 500.”

Existing conditional use permit criteria includes:

  • Operations within an enclosed building;
  • At least 500 feet from residential districts and schools;
  • At least 1,320 feet from other medical marijuana uses;
  • Approval of safety plan;
  • Limited hours;
  • No drive through, take-out window, drive in service.

“Scottsdale also has the least number of protected uses and the more popular ones that the other Valley cities had were churches, child care, parks, and community buildings, which Scottsdale currently only has residential and schools,” said Mr. Cluff.

In addition, other Valley cities such as Tempe, Phoenix and Gilbert have been amending their medical marijuana ordinances in the past few years to restrict the number of allowed facilities, among other things.

Council input

The city council leaned toward the option that most strictly regulated facilities.

David Smith

David Smith

“I’m going to make a recommendation to do C,” said Vice Mayor David Smith. “For the moment, I’m just making a recommendation that whatever ordinance we put together, it include option C.”

Option C is an increase separation between other medical marijuana uses, schools and residential to 2,640 feet. This option would reduce potential locations by 97 percent, leaving one potential location within city limits.

Also in agreement on option C, Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield believes aligning with other Valley cities is common sense. She also showed support for options D, which would name churches, childcare and other entities as protected uses.

“Looking at where we stand in relationship to our neighbor cities, I think we need to take some steps to add protections for Scottsdale,” said Councilwoman Littlefield. “I have a concern that if we don’t do this tonight, Scottsdale will become the go-to place for all the marijuana dispensaries that are looking to move because our rules would be so lax in comparison.”

All three of the separation requirement options would affect the current dispensaries, said Mr. Cluff. The city staff would need to allow these five businesses to be “grandfathered” in.

Kathy Littlefield

Kathy Littlefield

“Five dispensaries have been approved here in Scottsdale and I would agree that we need to grandfather in those five facilities in such a way that there’s no problem with the use of these facilities that have already been approved,” said Councilwoman Littlefield.

City attorney Bruce Washburn recommended the safest way to grandfather in these facilities would be to judge them by the same standard they are currently operating under right now, as long as they are still in compliance with all regulations.

The city unanimously voted to recommend option C to the city staff; the council also voted 6-1 to recommend item D, with Councilwoman Virginia Korte dissenting. Lastly, the council unanimously voted to seek direction on how to best facilitate grandfathering in the five operating dispensaries.

In 2012, the Arizona Department of Health Service based locations of Medical marijuana facilities on established Community Health Analysis Areas, or “CHAAs.” There are seven CHAAs that overlap the Scottsdale city limits, and two CHAAs cover the vast majority of the city.

Five other CHAAs extend into the edges of the city limits. Originally, ADHS limited the number of Medical Marijuana licenses to one per CHAA. However, once a licensed facility in good standing has been in operation for three or more years, state rules allow the owner of the facility to relocate their license within the state based on market demand.

To date, a total of nine dispensaries throughout the state have relocated out of their original designated CHAA and in to another CHAA after having been in operation for three or more years. Three of these dispensaries relocated to Scottsdale, and six relocated to the city of Phoenix.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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