The Peoria City Council Tuesday night approved ordinance changes aimed at outlining the proper use of medical marijuana within city limits and the regulation of medical marijuana facility locations.
However, the council left the door open for further changes in the coming months.
Mayor Bob Barrett said Tuesday’s changes needed to pass to give city staff time to implement them before the Arizona Department of Health Services can begin issuing medical marijuana cards in early April.
“If we don’t implement this at least as a stopgap measure, if we put this off, we run the risk of a guy getting his card, getting his grass and smoking it wherever he wants,” Barrett said.
City staff recommendations regarding ordinance changes regulating marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries were passed without issue. Changes regarding the definition of “smoking” and “public places,” however, resulted in lengthy debate. At issue, said City Attorney Steve Kemp, was the medical marijuana allowances approved by the public in November.
“While the measure prohibits smoking marijuana in public places, it does not offer a definition of public place,” he said.
Kemp said the vagueness of that phrasing would result in immediate problems.
“When you have a term like ‘public place’ with no definition it is basically unenforceable,” he said. “Because I cannot tell people what a public place is. And our police officers would have a lot of trouble issuing citations for the same reason.”
The solution offered up by city staff was to define “public place” regarding marijuana along the lines of the definition used for smoking tobacco. Councilwoman Joan Evans said she would like to see something stricter.
“I think we need to consider that smoking tobacco is a recreational activity and smoking marijuana is medicinal,” she said. “I don’t want to be hardnosed about this and I realize we risk violating the intent of the measure the people voted for if we push too far, but I believe we can push a little further.”
The council suggested several changes, among them extending the buffer zone around play areas in parks from 25 to 50 feet, including skate parks as areas where said buffer zone would be in place and further restricting the areas around adult care and healthcare facilities housed in private residences where marijuana can be smoked.
The reason for the urgency, Kemp explained, is that ordinance changes require a 30-day grace period before the changes go into effect. With only two months until medical marijuana cards can be issued, Kemp said city staff could use all the time they can get to put the changes in place and iron out any issues.
“It would be helpful to have something in place,” he said. “Get something in place and you can always come back and make changes later.”
The board agreed, voting to approve the motion 6-1, with Evans the lone dissenter.
To read the city’s ordinance changes in full, visit www.peoriaaz.gov and click on the link to Council Agendas and Packets.
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.