Tucsonans moved a step closer Tuesday to getting door-step delivery of medical marijuana.
The City Council unanimously approved a city Planning Commission recommendation to allow pot delivery to medical marijuana cardholders’ homes, hospices and nursing homes.
Other green-lighted recommendations would allow dispensaries to have longer hours , lift the 3,000-square-foot limit on cultivation sites and let both dispensaries and cultivation sites produce marijuana-infused food products. Dispensaries can now operate from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The change would extend those hours from 7 a.m. to midnight.
The city would also dump its requirement that cultivation sites in industrial zones be set back 500 feet from churches, libraries, day-care centers and substance-abuse clinics.
In accordance with state law, a 500-foot setback from schools would remain.
Council members praised the broad rule changes as way to keep Tucson competitive in the burgeoning medical-marijuana market.
“We need to be very aware that this is an economic opportunity. And if we don’t seize it, it will pass us by and Tucson will get left holding the bag again,” said Councilman Paul Cunningham, who pushed for the changes.
But the owner of the city’s two cultivation sites said foot-dragging on this issue has already cost him and others .
“The whole process has taken too long,” said Jean-Paul Genet. “We’ve already seen people leave Tucson to go elsewhere.”
Genet said the strict limits on cultivation space inflates prices and makes it difficult for indigent patients to receive medical marijuana. He said the larger square-footage will allow him to expand the variety of marijuana to customers and keep him competitive with other cities.
If the city fails to enact the changes, Genet has a back-up plan to relocate to Santa Cruz County.
The proposed amendments will get a public hearing at the Sept. 9 council meeting and could take effect the next day if the council approves them.
The council unanimously voted to direct its staff to work on possible changes to the charter when it comes to how the city issues bond debt. Suggested changes included lifting the current $1.75 limit on property tax rates or allowing the city to pledge sales taxes towards bond repayment.
Both of those would require voter approval.
Finance Director Silvia Amparano said Tucson has a rougher time than other cities when it comes to taking out general obligation bonds because of its restrictive charter. That’s why the city relies on non-voter-approved debt to finance projects, she said. The debt talk arose out of Councilman Steve Kozachik‘s desire to limit the city’s use of certificates of participation (COPs).
COPs require only a majority vote of the council and are paid back from same fund as roads, police and parks. The city owes about $260 million in COPs debt. COPs has been used to finance projects, such as the crime lab and streetcar, and to cover budget deficits.
Kozachik said the city relies too heavily on COPs and wants to cap its use and stop bundling city buildings and assets as collateral.
While Councilwoman Karin Uhlich agreed COPs need policy oversight, she said Kozachik’s proposal would make it easier for the city to default on its debt and she couldn’t support it.
She suggested the city require a supermajority vote to issue COPs or cap it as a percentage of the overall operating budget.
Even though his recommendations got a tepid response , Kozachik said it was a productive discussion.
“We should have had this conversation long ago. It’s not our job to sit here and take staff’s recommendations without question,” he said. “Today we finally heard from them that we need controls.”
The staff will also develop guidelines for how the city issues COPs in the future.
The city created a charter review committee earlier this year to begin looking at possible revisions that could go to voters as early as November 2015.