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City lifts limits on pot business

Cottonwood Journal Extra of Cottonwood, Arizona

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It was a debate about substance abuse and morality.

When it came down to it, however, it was ultimately a planning and zoning issue.

The Cottonwood City Council voted 5-1 at its Tuesday, Nov. 3, meeting to change its rules governing the size of facilities that grow marijuana for eventual distribution to Arizona's medical marijuana dispensaries. Councilman Terence Pratt was not at the meeting.

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was approved by voters in 2010, setting the stage for cities and towns to come up with their own rules on how to deal with the now-legal industry.

Cottonwood Agricultural Services has been in its current Cottonwood location for two years.

The business has more than 16,000 square feet to potentially expand operations but has found itself limited by the 10,000 square-foot restrictions set up by the city.

Those restrictions were eliminated this week.

"The problem is that these rules were created before the industry actually existed," said Demitri Downing, a consultant and former prosecutor.

The Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission had already approved changing the town's rules with a 6-1 vote.

"This is primarily a land use issue," said Charlie Scully, Cottonwood long-range planner.

The council opened the floor to public discussion and quite a few spoke about the danger of marijuana, to youth and to society as a whole.

Robb Williams, pastor at Verde Baptist Church and a member of the Mingus Union High School District governing board, spoke out against letting the growing operation expand.

"As much as I respect the possible economic impact, and with the possibility for potential recreational use, it's best not to poise our community to lead that pack," Williams said.

Other spoke out against the potential dangers of marijuana, such as Merilee Fowler, the executive director of MATForce.

Councilman Jesse Dowling said that the business wouldn't even be noticed if it weren't for people talking about it.

Most of the business' production is sent to a dispensary near Tucson, Demitri Downing said.

Casey Waldrop, head grower with the company, said he wasn't trying to put marijuana into the hands of children.

"I'm also a parent," Waldrop said.

Ed Kiyler, chairman of the Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission, said that the body had held meetings on this topic without public input.

"This is a legitimate business under Arizona law," Kiyler said. "We were also worried about the potential for civil suits if we said no."

Jesse Dowling said that it was indeed a legitimate business and that this was simply a building regulation matter.

Dowling said he was proud of the efforts of groups like MATForce and their efforts to combat issues like substance abuse, but the job of the council is to set economic policy.

Vice Mayor Karen Pfeifer voted against the measure, arguing that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

"I don't think anyone believes I'm against creating jobs," Pfeifer said.

Councilman Tim Elinski said this was most certainly a planning and zoning matter and that issues about marijuana were not in the scope of looking at a business that wants to expand.



Copyright 2015 Cottonwood Journal Extra, Cottonwood, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015



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