Alan Sobol’s latest letter to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble is dated March 14, 2011, and it contains some explosive allegations.  In the letter Mr. Sobol complains about the zoning nightmare created by DHS rules and the cities of Arizona.  He correctly claims that it is the cities of Arizona who are effectively making the decision on who will ultimately get a dispensary license rather than DHS. Here are some choice statements from Mr. Sobol’s letter:

“Although the AZDHS rules are ambiguous and do not specifically require Zoning approval at the first stage of the application process, nevertheless, the Rose Law group has been aggressively pursuing Zoning Approval for their clients. Do they know something that nobody else does? Is Mr. Humble’s final rules going to interpret the current ambiguous rules to mean that you do indeed need ZONING APPROVAL? It is hard to imagine that a State Agency could not have done a better job promulgating their rules, if that was truly their intention.”

“We hereby demand that Mr. Humble immediately clarify his position regarding Zoning Approval with respect to the initial Application process; Is Zoning Approval a requirement or NOT? If zoning approval is a requirement we further demand that the Health Department extend the time for applicants to submit their Dispensary applications. The extended time should be sufficient for all applicants to seek and obtain local Zoning Approval, in any event no less than 60 additional days.”

“we adamantly oppose the requirement that Applicants obtain Zoning approval prior to submission of the initial application. If the Health department requires such zoning approval they are in fact deferring their authority under Title 36 to select the Dispensary licensees to local zoning boards. Under this scenario the Health Department could only consider applicants who were approved by local zoning boards, precluding all others.”

I agree with each of the three statements made above.

Rule R9-17-303.B.5 says the application for a dispensary license must be accompanied by:

“A sworn statement signed and dated by the individual or individuals in R9-17-301 certifying that the dispensary is in compliance with local zoning restrictions

Unfortunately the zoning rules do not explain what it means for “the dispensary is in compliance with local zoning restrictions.” There are two schools of thought on the meaning:

  1. The applicant can make the zoning affirmation if the dispensary site is properly zoned and not too close to a prohibited structure or area.
  2. The applicant can make the zoning affirmation if the application has filed the necessary paperwork with the city and obtained whatever magical city zoning paperwork is required to ultimately operate a medical marijuana dispensary at the site such as a use permit, a variance or a note from the mayor’s mommy saying she really really likes one of the owners of the applicant (I made up the last item).

Ryan Hurley, a zoning attorney with the Rose Law Group was a speaker at a March 3, 2011, seminar sponsored by the State Bar of Arizona.  Ryan said he thought Rule R9-17-303.B.5 meant choice #2.  After the seminar I asked Tom Salow of the DHS if he agreed with Ryan Hurley about the zoning affirmation and he said no – he interpreted the rule to mean choice #1.  Unfortunately it is no legal significance what either Ryan Hurley or Tom Salow think the rule means.  What is important is WHAT DOES THIS RULE ACTUALLY MEAN?  See “Must My Dispensary Obtain a Conditional Use Permit from the City before it can File an Application for an Arizona Medical Marijuana Dispensary License?

DHS needs to clairfy the meaning of the rule.  I hope that the third and hopefully final draft of the rules due March 28, 2011, will clarify this point and make it clear that the applicant need only affirm that its site is properly zoned and not too close to a prohibited structure or area.  It is just stupid and a waste of everybody’s resources for multiple applicants for the one license within a CHAA to go through the actual zoning process and get city zoning approval before the applicant wins the lottery.

Mr. Sobol makes a valid point that the current chaos created by the DHS rules, the CHAAs and local zoning is in effect allowing the zoning authorities to determine who can apply for a license for an Arizona medical marijuana dispensary.  The cities are the gate keepers who decide who gets a site and who doesn’t.  If the rules mean that an applicant for a dispensary license must get city zoning approval before being able to affirm that the site zoning is groovy then the cities are, in fact, selecting which would-be dispensaries will get a dispensary license within their jurisdictions.  This is contrary to Arizona’s medical marijuana laws, which require that DHS determine who gets a dispensary license.

I suggest all would-be dispensaries and their owners to send a letter to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble and ask him to change the rules to clarify that the affirmation of zoning means only that the site is properly zoned and not too close to a prohibited structure or area.  Send your letter to Will Humble, Director, Arizona Department of Health Services, 150 N. 18th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85007.