FLORENCE — Pinal County is following in the footsteps of other counties in the state by dismissing some charges for marijuana possession under the new law that was passed when voters approved Proposition 207 on Nov. 3.
“We are dropping cases as soon as we can find them,” said Trevor Smith, the public information officer for the Pinal County Attorney’s Office.
All of the office’s attorneys are searching through their caseloads to find individuals facing charges of possession of less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana, with no more than 5 grams being a marijuana concentrate, which was obviously for personal use, he said. They are also looking through the list of bench warrants issued for individuals who may have similar possession charges that may be dismissed.
However, not all cases may be dismissed, Smith said. Attorneys are looking at each case they find individually. Some people may have additional charges that may not be dismissed, such as possession of another illegal drug or other illegal activities.
“It’s a very fluid decision-making process,” he said. “Any changes we make now may be revisited.”
The office is also leaving it up to law enforcement officers, as it has in the past, to determine what to initially arrest and charge an individual with when it comes to possession of marijuana, Smith said.
Meanwhile, cities and towns across Pinal County are figuring out what the next steps should be to prepare for the new law. Officials from those municipalities anticipate work sessions and ordinances to go in front of councils in the coming weeks.
There are currently medical marijuana facilities in Coolidge and Casa Grande as well as three marijuana grow sites in Coolidge. Medical facilities get first priority to convert to recreational stores. Officials from Maricopa and Florence, among others, said there hasn’t been any interest shown in bringing a dispensary to those places.
“As we have read Proposition 207, it was written to limit local governments’ ability to prevent these facilities from attaining the applicable licenses and permits to dispense marijuana recreationally under the rules that will be created and administered by the Arizona Department of Health Services,” said Casa Grande City Manager Larry Rains. “Staff did assess the language of Prop. 207 and has been evaluating language for an ordinance(s) that could be brought to the mayor and City Council for their consideration, which was similar to the approach that was utilized when medical marijuana was approved in the state.”
Some municipalities in Arizona have already created measures to stop parts of this proposition from taking effect in their jurisdictions, like the town of Gilbert. The town put an ordinance in place last month prohibiting recreational marijuana retail and associated facilities from existing in Gilbert, apart from the medical marijuana facility already in town. The ordinance also prohibits smoking marijuana in public places.
“Gilbert’s policy makes sense to Gilbert based on the way their current codes are written,” said Maricopa Mayor Christian Price. “So we kind of have to look and say, ‘Well, OK, if we were gonna go down that road, how are our codes written?’”
The city plans to have several work sessions, open to the public, to talk through zoning and ordinance changes to accommodate this new law, hopefully by the end of this year.
“I really want to dive into this from a legal perspective. I actually asked the city manager and the city attorney, ‘Hey, bring this before us so that we can talk about it in-depth,’” Price said. “I just want to make sure we’re open and honest with the public so that we can have the input needed to make a final decision.”
In Maricopa, there is no medical dispensary within city limits. Price attributed this in part to the number of schools and day care facilities in the area, which he says impacts their ability to come to Maricopa.
“Part of that is because of the way that our city has been built,” Price said. “There are laws that say you can’t put a dispensary next to a school or within so many feet of a school or a preschool. Well, when you look at our city, it’s not that wide. … There aren’t properties really inside the city that are available, that you could even put one if you wanted to.”
Eloy Mayor Micah Powell told PinalCentral that there was talk about legalizing marijuana several years ago when it first appeared on a ballot.
“For the recreational side of it, I think we were in talks of just in case last time,” Powell said. “Now that it did pass, we’re going to bring a resolution or ordinance to add to our city code, but I think that’s going to happen in December so that item will be brought before council. I think it takes effect in January, and whenever it does go, we want to be prepared.”
Powell added that if the council decides to, the city could follow the footsteps of the town of Gilbert and ban recreational use within city limits.
“We could do that if council decided to do that,” Powell said. “I don’t know, I have not heard anything about that. I’m going with what has passed and what hasn’t passed, so that issue hasn’t been brought to council before. We’ll be ready for it though whenever it’s brought before council in December.”
Currently Eloy’s city code does allow businesses to cultivate marijuana for medical use.
“We had a dispensary at one time on Houser Road off of I-10,” Powell said. “We’ve had that in the code for a while already. It wasn’t a matter of if it was going to pass, it was a matter of when it was going to pass, so now we just have to make adjustments to the new requirements for Prop. 207.”