Marana's Planning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of approving a conditional use permit for the first application the town has received from a company looking to set up a medical marijuana dispensary and growing operation.
Commissioner Jeffrey Adragna and board Chairman Norman Fogel voted against issuing the permit at the commission's April 27 meeting.
A company called Progressive Herbal Care applied for the permit, hoping to set up shop in 3,000 square feet at 6248 N. Travel Center Drive. That's on the west side of where North Thornydale Road turns into West River Road, just south of West Orange Grove Road.
The commission's approval doesn't necessarily mean the dispensary will be built, however.
Ultimately, the state will approve dispensary locations after various jurisdictions have approved use permits for them.
The state health department plans to issue certificates to operate dispensaries based on statistical analysis areas called Community Health Analysis Areas, or CHAAs, that carve the state into 126 pieces.
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The recently adopted rules for medical pot allow the state to issue one certificate for a dispensary per region. Around Tucson, there are about a dozen of these areas. Marana occupies parts of five of them.
If only one qualifying application comes in for a given area, the state will grant the operator the certificate. But if more than one meets the requirements, the department plans to award the certificate randomly.
Marana could end up with no dispensaries if a dispensary is approved in a different municipality that occupies the same CHAA as one occupied by Marana, Assistant Planning Director Lisa Shafer told the board.
Additionally, Shafer said, the state's rules indicate that if there is no medical marijuana dispensary within 25 miles, medical marijuana patients are allowed to grow their own.
The Progressive Herbal Care location would cover the entire town, preventing anyone in town limits from legally being able to grow their own marijuana, she said.
During the public hearing, registered nurse Karen Mercereau said she has seen the medical marijuana issue wax and wane in her 43 years of nursing and said she supports Progressive Herbal Care's application.
She's seen medical marijuana benefit patients in many circumstances, she said.
But Robert Schoff, the original developer of the plaza where the dispensary would be located, and the manager of the National RV Central plaza with which the dispensary would share a driveway, said the RV center caters to high-end recreational-vehicle storage users who would be turned off by the dispensary's presence.
"We don't feel this use adjacent to our multimillion-dollar facility is proper for this parcel," he said.
When he sold the parcel, the buyer was to run a catering business in that location, he said.
But now the new owner, Gary Sneva, is willing to sell the parcel to Progressive Herbal Care pending the state's approval of the dispensary.
Would-be dispensary operator Maria Trevino said in an interview that her personal history led her to want to start the nonprofit with business partner Lawrence Ellheim.
Now 33, she was 19 when she was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy and had to experiment for several years to find a combination of medications that adequately controlled her seizures.
Also, she saw what her grandmother went through when she had a double mastectomy.
Neither of them used medical marijuana, she said, but it would have been nice if they could have had it as one more option to see if it helped.
"I still meet people that have so many different ailments that Western medicine hasn't been able to help," she said. "Moving forward, now that this is an option for people, I can't wait to start helping."
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Star reporter Dale Quinn contributed to this story. Contact reporter Shelley Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8464.