It might be the first time in history that a Mesa mayor has ever joked about collecting sales taxes on bongs.
But then, it’s probably also the first time in history that Mesa has come face to face with the prospect of stores legally selling marijuana in one of Arizona’s most conservative cities.
Whether that happens depends on Arizona voters, who are being asked to decide on Proposition 203 in the Nov. 2 election. The proposition would legalize so-called medical marijuana.
Given its size, Mesa probably would wind up with eight to 10 of the 120 dispensaries that would be authorized around the state.”This is not something we can prohibit,” Mayor Scott Smith said during Thursday’s City Council study session.
But the council can regulate where the dispensaries and affiliated cultivation sites would be located.
So zoning administrator Gordon Sheffield offered some proposals, including limiting dispensaries to areas zoned for retail; confining cultivation facilities to commercial and industrial zones; keeping dispensaries a half-mile from each other as well as from residential substance abuse and alcohol treatment facilities and from halfway houses for ex-inmates; keeping them a quarter-mile from churches, libraries, parks and homeowner association-maintained open spaces and keeping them 500 feet away from group homes for the handicapped, schools and day-care facilities.
Ryan Hurley, a lawyer representing a group called Community Cannabis Clinic, said most of Mesa’s proposed rules sound reasonable.
His only quibble was that the space limitations for dispensaries and growing facilities are too strict.
Sheffield showed the council a map of where dispensaries might be allowed, with red strip marking a concentration of eligible areas along Main Street.
Councilman Scott Somers said, “It seems to shoehorn everything into the area that we’re working really, really hard to clean up. That is Main Street, mostly. Particularly west Mesa but also that area between Stapley all the way out to Higley.”
Councilman Dave Richins fretted about confining the dispensaries to retail areas, saying he thought those zones were created largely to generate sales taxes. Richins said he’d prefer to see the dispensaries in office districts such as those used by doctors.
Sheffield said commercial districts aren’t designed just to collect sales taxes, but to create districts suitable for people coming and going and buying things.
Later Hurley said it was likely Mesa could collect sales taxes on marijuana.
Sheffield’s proposal will next go to the Planning and Zoning Board.