Marijuana Dispensary Sign

The Arizona Department of Health Services started accepting applications on Jan. 19 and began approving dual licenses three days later.

While 60% of Arizona’s voters approved Proposition 207 in November, Carefree’s voters were on the fence about the state allowing the recreational use, sale and possession of marijuana for anyone 21 and older.

Carefree’s Proposition 207 voting results showed residents were “almost split 50/50,” said Planning Director Stacey Bridge-Denzak during a recent town council meeting.

With that in mind, the town has considered how the new law will affect its residents and how it should be applied within its ordinances, she said. 

This prompted the discussion to amend the Carefree Town Code “to protect the health, safety, and welfare” of residents by only allowing dual-licensed medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana.

If approved, this ordinance means recreational marijuana dispensaries will not be a part of Carefree’s future, only marijuana dispensaries licensed to sell medical and recreational products. 

“We thought we need to do something,” Bridge-Denzak said while leading the presentation. “We don’t want to just wait and see what happens as licenses are approved by the Arizona Department of Health Services.”

“But at the same time, we want to be sure that we’re protecting our residents, we’re protecting our businesses, we’re protecting the values of what’s important to Carefree.”

Recreational marijuana sales began shortly after the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) started approving dual licenses on Jan. 22. 

The first reading of this item took place on Feb. 2. No public comments were received at that time.

Part of this proposed ordinance also prohibits the use, sale and possession of marijuana on town-owned or controlled property as well as public places. However, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act (SSAA) already forbids anyone from smoking marijuana on public grounds. 

The town wants to “preserve all of the public peace” as well as the health and safety of the community “but at the same time we don’t want to dismiss outright potential revenue implications,” Bridge-Denzak explained.

There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in Carefree as of now. However, the town staff felt it was “important” to set regulations in place before the matter arises, she explained.

“If we didn’t have anything, you could have a licensed recreational marijuana facility come in, and once they’re in, it’s hard to ask them to leave.”

This ordinance was also designed to “prevent a spread of recreational marijuana establishments before state and local impacts are known and fully vetted and studied,” according to the information summary. 

Once the provisions and regulations are in place, the town will be able to spend more time “studying other alternatives as it sees fit.”

The proposed ordinance establishes penalties for potential violations “depending on the confines of Proposition 207,” it states. It also prohibits marijuana testing facilities in town.

Amending the town code “doesn’t affect anybody’s private rights to consume marijuana as long as you’re over 21 years old,” Bridge-Denzak stated. 

Carefree will still allow adults to use and smoke marijuana in privately owned spaces. Arizona allows adults to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana.

Adults may also cultivate marijuana in their homes as well, she added. The state permits adults to grow up to six marijuana plants in their primary residence for personal use. 

The SSAA gives towns and cities “a lot of liberty” to regulate recreational marijuana, Bridge-Denzak explained. Jurisdictions have the power to prohibit it “outright completely” or allow anything in between, she added.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns developed an overall ordinance model that allows towns and cities to “pick and choose” what marijuana-related restrictions it wants to enact, she explained. 

The town of Gilbert and the city of Scottsdale have enacted similar regulations that prohibit marijuana establishments with the exception of dual-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

Carefree’s provisions were modeled after the ordinance enacted by the town of Gilbert, Bridge-Denzak said. 

The town staff sees this ordinance as a “fair way to introduce recreational marijuana” sales, she said. The town will be able to amend it if deemed necessary, she added. 

The proposed ordinance contains an “emergency clause” which allows the town to put it in effect immediately given the fact that the proposition was approved last year. 

The original draft of the ordinance proposed additional regulation on marijuana deliveries to ensure that only state license-approved personnel from dual-licensed dispensaries facilitate marijuana delivery services. 

This is no longer part of the ordinance because it was deemed “too difficult” to regulate as Carefree does not have its own law enforcement agency, Bridge-Denzak explained, adding the town has only one code enforcement officer.

However, the state already prohibits marijuana delivery services unless it’s from a dual-licensed dispensary. ADHS will adopt more rules to permit and regulate deliveries within the next few years, the SSAA states.

“I think we’ve reached a good compromise between what the proposition allows and how I think we want our town to operate,” Vice Mayor John Crane said after the presentation. 

The ordinance is an “excellent first step, particularly given that the town residents were split 50/50 on this one,” said Mayor Les Peterson.

The second reading of this ordinance will likely take place during the next meeting on March 2. Peterson encouraged residents to email their opinions to Town Clerk Kandace French Contreras at kandace@carefree.org.

—Staff writer Sarah Donahue

can be reached at sdonahue@timespublications.com