Phoenix to make it harder to acquire tobacco, marijuana products

The Phoenix City Council met recently to discuss zoning regulations for smoke shops and marijuana dispensaries.

During a special meeting between the Phoenix City Council and the Neighborhoods, Housing and Development Subcommittee, a request was put forth to amend the zoning ordinances for smoke shop spacing requirements and medical marijuana facilities. The request to amend the zoning ordinance would reduce the percentage of floor space devoted to tobacco-oriented products in stores from 15 percent to 5 percent. This text amendment would also increase the spacing separation requirement from 500 feet to 1320 feet between tobacco-oriented retailers and places like schools, parks, churches and daycare facilities, according to Sandy Hoffman, Deputy Director of Planning and Development for the City of Phoenix.

“There are many places where it is frankly easier to buy drug paraphernalia than it is to buy a fresh apple,” said Councilwoman Kate Gallego. “ That’s something we ought to think about as we make these decisions as we do want to create healthy communities.”

Brian Hummell, the Arizona director of government relations at the American Cancer Society, stated to the council that he supported the efforts to reduce availability of tobacco products to Phoenix residents.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who participated in the meeting via teleconference, stated that though he supports the zoning ordinances overall, he had concerns regarding the extent of restrictions regarding tobacco products in Phoenix.

“I do support more restrictions and making it harder for youths to be able to get their hands on tobacco products,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio. “But at the end of the day, I just don’t want us to be so restrictive on what are considered to be legal uses for law-abiding people. It makes it tough for them to be able to get products that they already know they’ve got a problem with.”

Gallego noted a concern regarding the presence of drug-related paraphernalia stores in industrial areas with a high homeless population, noting, “They could end up in more industrial areas but we also have many facilities for at-risk populations, including our homeless population, so that’s something we need to consider as a balance as well because we want people who are in recovery to have the best chances possible.”

The council also discussed zoning regulations and current initiatives regarding medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation and infusion facilities. According to the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act discussed during the meeting, in addition to all other taxes the act would impose a luxury tax of 15 percent on all sales of marijuana and related products. All funds from the tax would be distributed to education and health agencies around Arizona.

Around 40 percent of the funds would go to school districts and charter schools and 40 percent would go to school districts and charter schools for full-day kindergarten.

The remaining 20 percent would be directed to the Arizona Department of Health Services for public education campaigns regarding the harms of alcohol, marijuana and other substances, according to Tom Remes, government relations director at City of Phoenix.

Phoenix currently has a one-mile separation requirement between medical marijuana facilities, and a 1,320 feet separation requirement between medical marijuana facilities and schools. The city also has a 500 feet spacing requirement between medical marijuana facilities and places of worship.

“Nobody is selling medical marijuana to kids,” said Ryan Hurley, an attorney for the Rose Law Group. “These are licensed patients and this is a legal use in the state of Arizona. In order to even get into a facility you have to have a state issued card.”

Hurley stated that he believes there is no need for the separation requirement because the usage of the medical marijuana cultivation facilities are only accessible by employees and hold no signage.

Jeff Taylor, a representative from the Salvation Army, stated to the council that the company serves people at or below the poverty level through after-school programs, nurseries, and residential drug treatment facilities that are usually located in areas near marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities.

“These are not just benign smoke shops,” said Taylor. “They’re not only selling drug paraphernalia, they are selling crack pipes, things to smoke heroin with, and methamphetamine pipes. When you have an attractor like that, then you have drug deals being done in the immediate area also.”

No formal action was taken during the meeting.