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City working to change dispensary rules

Posted at 9:30 PM, Jan 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-05 23:40:09-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- The Tucson City Council is working on changes to medical marijuana dispensary zoning laws.
At a study session Tuesday, council members passed three amendments that will help dispensaries expand. While city leaders and dispensary owners say the changes are minor, some in the medical marijuana field say it may be a big step for the industry.
The three proposed amendments include one which will allow off-site cultivation sites to expand up to 4,000 square feet in C-2 and C-3 zones. The current rule limits dispensaries to 3,000 square feet in those commercial areas.
Another will adjust the "sensitive use" setbacks for the expansion of existing dispensaries. Currently existing dispensaries can only expand within 1,000 feet of sensitive use areas, which include schools and churches. The new rule would allow existing dispensaries to expand within 500 feet from schools that have moved into the area since the dispensary was established. 
According to the city, the issue was brought to the attention of the council when the Sixth Street dispensary wanted to expand its kitchen. Under current city law, it couldn't expand because of several sensitive uses that were located within less than the 1,000 foot setback.
The third amendment would allow the outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana in industrial zones. Under state law, outdoor growing is allowed when surrounded by solid, 10-foot walls made of metal, concrete or stone that prevent any viewing of the marijuana plants. 
Among those in attendance of Tuesday's study session was the owner of Purple Med Healing Center near I-10 and 22nd. Owner Jean-Paul Genet says they started with 8 employees, and they now employ about 40 people. He says they often have to buy product from Phoenix to keep up with the demand. 
"We can't keep up with the demand, and usually there's no falling off," Genet said.  
Genet says they go to great lengths to keep the cultivation sites and dispensaries low-key, and he's hoping changes to city rules will help them expand. 
While critics may have concerns about seeing too many dispensaries in town, city leaders say you won't see one popping up on every corner. Council member Paul Cunningham says Tucson has strict zoning laws, and there are 8 dispensaries within city limits. 
"People shouldn't notice anything," Cunningham said. "It should be very minimal, but again at the same time we can't be interfering with the dispensaries opportunity to operate."
The city says it could be 3 or 4 months before the amendments go into effect. The proposals will go to the planning commission, there will be a public hearing, and then the mayor and council will have to vote again for final approval.