The town of Marana embraces its agricultural heritage, but town leaders aren’t sure they want to extend that welcome to farms that grow medical-grade marijuana.
At one recent Marana Planning Commission meeting to discuss the issue, a speaker’s tongue slipped and he referred to the municipality as the Town of Marijuana.
The mistake got some guffaws, but that’s exactly the kind of nickname town leaders want to avoid.
The Town Council will consider a ban on marijuana farms Tuesday.
Arizona voters approved medical marijuana in 2010, and dispensaries are opening, but their in-store plant-growing capacity is limited. So dispensary owners are looking for places to grow more pot. A farming community like Marana is an obvious place for this issue to rear up, but the issue also is bound to vex other local cities and towns as demand for medical marijuana grows.
So far in Marana, only one business has applied to open a pot farm. But that has some town leaders envisioning a dreaded day when Marana really does become the Town of Marijuana, and multiple pot farms keep the entire state’s dispensaries puffing.
Marana has two medical marijuana dispensaries, which is the state limit for a town of its size. Both grow their pot on-site.
The town code allows an unlimited number of off-site growing facilities with a permit, said Laine Sklar, senior assistant town attorney. But because of requirements that they not be located near schools, sites can be can be hard to find, she said.
Chief wants ban
Police Chief Terry Rozema, who came on board a few months after the town approved pot farms, is pushing for a ban. Transporting marijuana from farm to store will attract crime and stretch police resources thin, he said.
“If you ask me if it is a good idea to have off-site grow locations, I would say, ‘Absolutely not,’” he told the planning commission. “We would literally open ourselves up for every dispensary in the state of Arizona to have their growth site here in Marana.
“It is not something that I want to see as a resident, and it is definitely not something I want to see as a police chief,” he said.
The planning commission voted 5-2 last week to recommend a ban on off-site pot farms. Even if the Town Council agrees, it would still allow growing at dispensaries, where increased police presence already is necessary.
“The sentiment was that Marana has already gotten two of these things and didn’t want any more. And (they) specifically didn’t want grow fields, even though we are traditionally an agricultural community — but corn and cotton and such things, not marijuana,” said planning commission chairman Norman Fogel.
However, Fogel said he knows people who benefit from the use of medical marijuana to ease pain, so he doesn’t oppose dispensaries.
Only one business has applied for a permit to open a marijuana farm in Marana.
Arizona Natural Remedies proposed an 8,000-square-foot indoor farm with high-tech security systems at a nursery near North Wentz and West Sagebrush roads.
It would employ 12 workers, who would grow medical-grade marijuana and process it into salves and foods. The products would be sold at the company’s Route 85 Wellness Center, a dispensary in Ajo.
At a public hearing before the planning commission Wednesday, the town staff recommended approving the permit, but some residents spoke against the facility.
Sanders Grove Management, which owns 805 acres nearby, said the farm wouldn’t be compatible with the neighborhoods it plans to develop over 10 years.
The commission denied the permit in a 5-1 vote without comment.