Hiegel: Will medical marijuana be Scottsdale’s next big industry?

Let me be clear here: The Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce is not taking a “pro” or “con” position on the issue of medical marijuana. However, the topic does deserve consideration and conversation as it impacts our community today and maybe more so next week.

Mark Hiegel

Mark Hiegel

In 2010, Arizona voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. Ostensibly, the purpose of the AMMA was to allow for individuals with underlying medical conditions, with the approval of their doctors, to purchase limited amounts of medical marijuana. As part of the AMMA, local jurisdictions were allowed to create “reasonable” zoning as to the locations of these newly created medical marijuana dispensaries.

Reasonable people can disagree on the definition of “reasonable.” However, it was abundantly clear that Scottsdale could not altogether prohibit dispensaries.

The AMMA is administered by the Arizona Department of Health Services. As the role of administrator, DHS was required to implement a set of rules to govern the AMMA. A significant part of those rules was to determine the distribution of medical marijuana dispensaries around the state.

To this end, DHS used a Community Health Analysis Area system to allocate one dispensary per CHAA across the state. Scottsdale has two (2) CHAAs, one in the north and one in the south. The dividing line between north and south runs approximately along Via de Ventura. Per state law, Scottsdale was to be allocated two (2) dispensaries.

Under the belief that Scottsdale was to have two dispensaries, our city leaders created a zoning ordinance they felt was appropriate at the time, in fact it may still be appropriate. The enacted zoning ordinance required that dispensaries were located in Industrial (I) or Commercial Office (C-O) space, at least 500 feet from a residentially zoned district, and at least 1,320 feet from another medical marijuana facility. Scottsdale has very few C-O zoned properties.  That leaves Industrial as the primary zoning area for the dispensaries. The overwhelming majority of Scottsdale’s Industrial zoning is located in the Scottsdale Airpark.

Now fast forward a few years and see how things have worked out. We have two (2) medical marijuana facilities serving the 4,020 medical marijuana patients that reside in Scottsdale (according to the November 2015 DHS report). By all appearances there haven’t been any problems. You probably wouldn’t even know either business was there unless that was your destination.

But something has changed.  As of August 2015, DHS is allowing all dispensaries to move anywhere in the state they wish. Naturally, some and perhaps many of them want to move to Scottsdale. I can’t say that I blame them. Scottsdale is a wonderful city that prides itself as a great place to live, do business and raise a family (but I don’t think that’s why they want to be here, probably more related to the our financial discretionary income). As I understand it, the city has now received numerous inquiries and applications to open additional dispensaries in the Airpark.

The real question here is whether or not a potential unlimited number of medical marijuana dispensaries is good for the Scottsdale Airpark. After all, the Scottsdale Airpark is a significant economic driver of our city. On one hand, we welcome and encourage business competition. On the other hand, we are concerned about the potential impact of one type of business on other surrounding businesses.

This is the very reason why cities create zoning standards. Furthermore, our civic leaders drafted the current zoning ordinance under the (false?) pretense that Scottsdale would only have two (2) medical marijuana dispensaries. Perhaps it is appropriate to review the current zoning standards and see if they match the vision for the future of Scottsdale.

Another important consideration is the November 2016 election.

In November, Arizona voters will very likely have the option to legalize adult use marijuana much in the same way Colorado has done. Part of the initiative (The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol), allows for individual cities to ban the sale of adult use marijuana. However, those medical marijuana dispensaries already established are grandfathered in their conversion to adult use. This may in part be an explanation of why so many dispensaries are quickly trying to move into Scottsdale. How many could there be under the new guidelines?.

Under the current zoning standards, it is entirely possible that we may have a “Marijuana District” in north Scottsdale, much the same way we have an “Entertainment District” in south Scottsdale. I’m not saying this is good or bad. My job here is simply to initiate a discussion of what is best for Scottsdale as a whole. And if you are not aware of the fact that this is happening, you are in the majority.

Scottsdale City Council will hold a hearing of the first two additional medical marijuana dispensaries on Monday Jan. 11 at the City Hall Kiva Forum, 3939 N Drinkwater Blvd, at 5:00 pm. Whether you are for or against the addition of new medical marijuana dispensaries, I encourage you to engage our civic leaders and have your voice heard. I feel as the leader of the Scottsdale Chamber it is part of my job to inform you on issues and opportunities that might impact our businesses, and then let your voices be heard.

If you are interested in learning more, join us for “Breakfast with a side of … Marijuana?? The event will be February 18 from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at The Doubletree Paradise Valley 5401 N. Scottsdale Road. ($20 for Chamber members and $30 for non-members).

One more thing: The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce wishes you a happy and prosperous 2016!

Editor’s note: Mr. Hiegel is the president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce

Editor's Note: Mr Hiegel is a resident of Scottsdale, a Charro and a longtime community advocate

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