Proposed zoning regulations for recreational marijuana businesses that would mirror Lake Havasu City’s current rules for medical marijuana dispensaries will head to the City Council with a recommendation to approve from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The Commission voted 5-1 to support the regulations that were recommended by city staff. Commissioner Chad Nelson cast the dissenting vote after his motion to postpone a decision on the topic was defeated by a 4-2 vote.
The proposed regulations would be exactly the same as the city’s current zoning regulations for medical marijuana. Any recreational dispensary would need to be located in either C-2 or light industrial zoning. Additionally, it would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a day care facility or another marijuana facility nor within 500 feet of a religious facility, a residential district, a public park, recreation facility, playground, or an establishment with an Arizona liquor license.
City Planner Luke Morris told the commission that many of the areas in town currently zoned C-2 or light industrial would not be viable locations for a marijuana business under the proposed zoning regulations due to the various distance restrictions.
City Attorney Kelly Garry said the zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, and therefore the proposed zoning for recreational marijuana, were originally based on the requirements in Havasu for liquor establishments as well as marijuana regulations in other communities and states.
The question of zoning for marijuana establishments springs from the passage of Proposition 207 with 60% of the vote – both statewide and locally – that legalizes the sale and use of marijuana for adults over 21 years old. It also allows adults to cultivate up to six plants, with a maximum of 12 plants per household and establishes at 16% transaction privilege tax for marijuana sales.
Garry explained to the commission that the proposed zoning regulations are the most restrictive regulations that the city can enact, because the voter initiative specifically bars cities from being more restrictive in their zoning for recreational marijuana than it already is for medical marijuana. Garry also told the Commission that zoning is the only power that cities have been given under the act to regulate marijuana businesses.
With Prop 207 passed, it will become law once it is certified by Gov. Doug Ducey.
“There is no specific time where that has to occur,” Garry said. “Generally it occurs around Nov. 30, but it could occur anytime in December or even later than that. So we are not sure when the measure will go into place, but sometime in the upcoming months it will go into place. At that time marijuana will be able to be used in Arizona legally. It won’t be able to be sold until the licenses have been issued.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services will be in charge of coming up with regulations for the license application process, and how the limited number of new licenses will be issued. Existing medical marijuana facilities will have the first chance to apply for licenses to sell recreationally from January until April. Garry said that in March the state is expected to start accepting applications from anyone without an existing medical marijuana license.
Most of the discussion between commissioners during the meeting centered on why this proposal is coming before the Planning and Zoning Commission now, and what the effects would be if the commission decided to put off a decision.
Nelson made a motion to postpone the decision until after the proposition is certified by Ducey, saying he wanted to wait for more information to be available about how it will be handled by the state.
“If we do postpone this, when do we revisit it?” asked Chairman Jim Harris. “It is coming, and it is coming fast. We need to be able to accommodate.”
Garry clarified that Ducey will certify the results, but he cannot make changes to the initiative that was approved by the voters. She also said the Health Services Department’s additional regulations will deal with licensing, but the city already has all the information about its powers – which strictly deal with zoning regulations.
“What the city can and can’t do is just that one section (of Prop 207),” Garry said. “That isn’t going to change. It won’t change by the governor certifying and it is not going to change by the rules that are promulgated by the state.
So if you postpone it that is fine, but we are going to be back here with the exact same presentation to you. We may know at that time that it has been certified by the governor, we may have the rules from the state, but it is not going to change the city section as far as what we have the power to do – that is only related to land use regulations.”
But Nelson said he felt like the Commission is moving to put their stamp on it before the governor does.
“I just want to make sure we are doing the right thing and we are asking the right questions, and not passing it in a 20 minute meeting,” Nelson said. “We have this meeting and this is probably the first time that people are going to think about it, talk about it, and it is coming to their attention. If we go ahead and pass it, mostly likely, the City Council is just going to pass it on our recommendation. That is my concern.”
Nelson went on to say that he would like to have more input from the community before moving forward.
Garry responded that the city staff shared Nelson’s concerns, and explained that is why they have recommended the most restrictive possible zoning allowed under the voter initiative as a starting point for the city.
“That is our whole reason for mirroring what we did with medical marijuana. That is the most that we can do – that is our starting point – we can’t be any more restrictive than that by the act. It gives us a safe place to start. If it is determined that we need more locations or we want to open it up a little bit we can absolutely do that through time. But just as you are saying, we aren’t in a big hurry to open it up and start exploring other portions of the city because there are a lot of unknowns.”
Garry said if the city decided it wanted to loosen its regulations for marijuana businesses in the future it could easily go back through the zoning process and the city could take its time reviewing the options and potential ramifications.
Harris asked what would happen if the Commission decided to wait until after the Ducey certified the proposition and Prop 207 became law.
“We have some time,” Garry responded. “Assuming that those dual licenses have an opportunity to submit and be processed between January and March we have some time. Those are only going to be open to those who currently have a medical marijuana dispensary, so I am assuming those will only be for the locations where they are at now. March is when the new applicants will be able to submit their new applications and start going through the process.”
Harris then asked what would happen if there were still no zoning regulations in place in March and the city is approached by someone who obtained a license to open a marijuana establishment in the city.
“Currently it wouldn’t be a part of our code,” Garry said. “It would be submitted and the zoning administrator would be responsible for trying to figure out what to do with it. If the question came to me I would say we are going to fall back on the medical marijuana regulations and process it that way. But they might have an argument that because we don’t have anything in place that wouldn’t be appropriate. We would be putting ourselves in a position that I wouldn’t want to be in.”
Ultimately, Garry said that as long as there are not major changes to what staff is proposing, postponing a decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission by a month or two likely wouldn’t have any effect on implementation in Havasu. But if the city would like to explore changes, which would involve loosening the restrictions for marijuana establishments, then staff would need significantly more time to properly vet it.
“We aren’t sure what the pulse of the community is going be on this issue,” Garry said. “We have been very focused on other election issues and covid issues so this isn’t something that has been discussed very much in public. We need to find out what direction the community wants to go. If it is a different direction than staff is proposing then we need to get on that, get those regulations in place, and get them before this board and before council so they can go into place before licenses start being issued.”
Proposed rules for marijuana establishments
- Hours of operation: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- 1,000 feet from:
- Day care facility
- Marijuana facility
- 500 feet from:
- Religious facility
- Residential use or residential district
- Public park, recreation facility or playground
- Establishment with an Arizona liquor license