MARICOPA — On Tuesday night, the Maricopa City Council invoked an emergency clause in order to pass a sweeping ordinance that significantly affects recreational marijuana production, sale and use within city limits.
The ordinance prohibits the growth, use, sale or distribution of marijuana on public property. It also prohibits any marijuana establishments from coming to Maricopa, unless they also have a medical marijuana license, and marijuana testing facilities are now prohibited by the city.
The ways in which individuals can use marijuana personally on their own property were also limited by the city’s ordinance. In some instances, the ordinance follows state guidelines as set forth by Proposition 207. In others, however, Maricopa’s regulations are more strict.
While marijuana users in the state can grow marijuana in any room of their home, marijuana users in Maricopa cannot. The ordinance states kitchen, bathrooms and primary bedrooms are not to be used for marijuana growth, only closets, greenhouses or other rooms such as a den. The ordinance also requires that these rooms be locked or otherwise protected from access by minors.
The Maricopa ordinance also specifically outlaws the odor of marijuana emitting from a residence.
The addition of these agenda items came as a surprise to some in the community. One resident, Bill Robertson, told the council during the call to the public that the emergency declaration was not in the public’s best interest, or an ethical issue given the little-to-no public discussion prior to the meeting.
“It almost looks like a purposeful by-design process to limit community feedback and get ahead of what is perceived as a controversial ordinance,” Robertson told the council. “Mayor, council, city manager, city attorney: There is no emergency.”
Robertson told the council there are no dispensary permits even available in Pinal County and pointed out that the only current new dispensary permits being issued are for already-existing medical marijuana dispensaries, of which Maricopa has none.
Robertson again asked what the emergency was that the council foresaw and requested the council repeal the emergency clause and postpone the vote for 30 days to include public input.
“In the eyes of the community it seems like you want to get this passed before we noticed,” Robertson said. “Include your community in this process by voting the will of the community.”
However, the council moved forward with the vote. On Tuesday, a resolution and ordinance were accepted by the council by a vote of 6 to 1, with Councilman Vincent Manfredi dissenting.
City staff maintained the declaration of an emergency order was to ensure that the city could determine its own rules for marijuana and not accept the state legislation outright.
“If we don’t take action, the state will determine the rules without public input from local citizens and there’s no coming back from that,” said City Manager Rick Horst. “What we’re in essence doing tonight is preserving the right for the local community to self-determine its own needs. Regardless of what we do tonight, this council has the ability to amend the ordinance in any direction.”
Arizona lawmakers have until April 5 to establish recreational marijuana legislation.
Vice Mayor Nancy Smith addressed community speculation that the council had already decided on the outcome of Tuesday night’s vote on marijuana legislation and stated she viewed the items at the same time the public had access to them.
Mayor Christian Price echoed her sentiments and said he had remained relatively quiet on recreational marijuana until Tuesday’s meeting in order to remain neutral in advance of an agendized item.
Discussion of the passing of Prop. 207 came up once before this year during the city’s Future Planning Conference in January. While discussing the need for a future study session on the matter, the topic of existing dispensaries was broached by council members.
“There’s a reason there’s no medical dispensaries in Maricopa,” Manfredi said at the time. “We don’t want 'em.”
Price responded and said there were laws in place that prevented dispensaries from being built too close to a school or day care center and attributed that as the reason there are none currently in Maricopa.
“Right, and it was on purpose,” Manfredi added.
Manfredi was the only council member to ultimately vote no on the ordinance and resolution put forth and said it had little to do with his personal beliefs about recreational marijuana legalization and more to do with the nature of the ordinance.
“I hate the idea of a dispensary in Maricopa — detest it actually. I don’t want it, but that’s my personal opinion, which means nothing,” Manfredi said. “Then there’s me, the capitalist, who believes that if a business wants to come to Maricopa, they should be able to come to Maricopa.”
A local man posted to Facebook after the vote to share his “extreme displeasure” over the council’s decision.
“I am a marijuana user,” he wrote. “It’s quite clear to me that, statistically, the existence of a dispensary will not increase use in the area. Beyond my personal convictions, there is a democratic one in which everyone except Vincent (Manfredi) missed. You are supposed to be our representatives, clearly none of you are.”
Price stated at Tuesday night’s meeting that this vote is just the beginning of more discussion on regulations for the city in relation to recreational marijuana and likened it to similar legislation put into place in the past by the city for massage and tattoo parlors.
“There needs to be this discussion but in order to do that, we have to take this action tonight to initiate the emergency clause so that we will have that opportunity in the near future,” Price said.