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9/25/2012 10:08:00 AM
Marijuana dispensary OK'd by Williams P&Z
Despite 11th hour protest by community members,
Ruth Sanzari (left) and others protest in front of Williams City Hall before the Sept. 20 Planning and Zoning meeting concerning a conditional use permit for a medical marijuana dispensary located on Route 66. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Ruth Sanzari (left) and others protest in front of Williams City Hall before the Sept. 20 Planning and Zoning meeting concerning a conditional use permit for a medical marijuana dispensary located on Route 66. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Bill Miller addresses P&Z commissioners while Tim Moore with the Cannabis Research Group listens. Ryan Williams/WGCN
Bill Miller addresses P&Z commissioners while Tim Moore with the Cannabis Research Group listens. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Ryan Williams
Managing Editor

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Despite a number of impassioned pleas from the public to vote down a medical marijuana dispensary in Williams, the Williams Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) voted 3-1 Sept. 20 to recommend the city council approve the facility on Route 66.

If approved by council this Thursday, Cannabis Research Group (CRG) would have the go ahead to open a dispensary at 341 East Route 66 in the old Poquette Realty building.

A small group of protesters held signs outside city hall before the P&Z meeting in opposition to the proposed dispensary. The majority of those in attendance opposed the facility as well.

P&Z Chairman Buck Williams opened the meeting by explaining exactly what the P&Z Commission was tasked to do. He said after Proposition 203, Arizona's Medical Marijuana Act, was approved it became mandatory under state law to allow for dispensaries under city ordinances.

"We could not as a commission, nor could city council, nor anybody set restrictions that would deny somebody setting up that facility," he said, adding municipalities are however allowed to set parameters for the creation of dispensary sites within city limits.

Williams went on to say the only task the P&Z Commission would focus on that evening was to determine whether officials with CRG were in compliance with city ordinance 916 and the conditions of the conditional use permit.

A number of those in attendance spoke out against the facility, many concerned with its location on Route 66 in downtown Williams, its possible effect on the tourism industry and the message such a facility might convey.

Priscilla Lagiere maintained a dispensary would not be consistent with the nature of other businesses in the immediate area.

Former city council member Bill Miller agreed with Lagiere. He said the proposed location was not acceptable.

"There are other places that should be sought out to give it a better location out of our tourist district," Miller said.

Miller also expressed concern that medical marijuana cards would be readily available to individuals with dubious medical needs.

"What I fear, is that because it's in our tourist area, we're going to develop a tourist trade that will come here and participate in that and then we have to settle with the consequences of whatever abuse might take place if it does," he said.

Ryan Schmitz said he lives in Williams for its quality of life and because the city provides a great place to raise a family.

"The question is, 'what do you want to communicate? What image do you want to communicate in Williams?' Yes, we all know the voters for whatever reason got bamboozled into passing this," he said.

Schmitz went on to say he supports medical marijuana for cancer patients, just not in Williams.

"I'm not against people in chemo being able to get high," he said. "But, let them go to Flag or let them go somewhere else but not on (Route) 66 for an abundance of reasons."

Ruth Sanzari said she feared extensive print advertising promoting a dispensary on Route 66 and that such a facility might hurt local businesses including restaurants and the Grand Canyon Railway.

Not everyone voiced concern. Margaret Mason spoke in favor of the facility.

"I think it will be a very good thing for the town," she said. "It will help revitalize this uptown area that is just starting to perk up and I think there is a lot of need for the medical marijuana dispensary."

Following initial public comments, Tim Moore and Patricia Wuensche, with CRG, answered questions from the public.

Mason asked Moore where cultivation would occur. Moore said a cultivation site had yet to be determined but will not take place in the immediate area.

As for security, Moore said all marijuana would be secured in a locked safe at all times barring when needed during working hours. Bars or security shutters will be installed inside the building as well.

"There are really only two, four, six windows I believe," Moore said.

Video surveillance systems and alarm systems will also be installed.

Wuensche said the facility will serve individuals in and around Williams with a medical marijuana card but much of the focus of the dispensary will be to provide medical marijuana to the research center's patients in Scottsdale at Desert Springs Cancer Care.

"What we're doing is trying to alleviate nausea in cancer patients because they are so nauseous that they can't eat," she said. "It causes them to lose a tremendous amount of weight. That is so detrimental to their health when they're going through chemotherapy. We're trying to stop their wasting or actually increase their weight so they can better accept therapy and have a better chance at successful treatment."

"Our patients down in Scottsdale will receive their product from whatever cultivation site we eventually put together. We don't have any plans for a cultivation site in Williams. Your cultivation site doesn't have to be where your dispensary is."

According to Wuensche, there are 60 registered medical marijuana users in the Williams area. There are 1,700 patients at Desert Springs Cancer Care with approximately 1,000 in clinical trials presently. She said none of those patients would be traveling to Williams to pick up medical marijuana.

With only 13 illnesses on the approved list for medical marijuana and cards not certified out of a dispensary facility, Wuensche said there is no way a marijuana tourist trade could take hold in Williams.

"It's not like you can stub your toe, go in and say I need a card," she said. "It doesn't happen that way. There is no way a tourist bus can pull up here and get a one day card."

Moore said the location on Route 66 was not the group's first choice.

"Our original choice was not that building," he said. "It was a gas station that was in such horrible shape that we couldn't even do anything with it. Frankly that building was available and had the correct zoning. It was not a conscious choice to be on Route 66. We're not looking to advertise and have walk in traffic there. Frankly, we can't do that for one because it's against the act."

In response to requests from the public to find a new location within Williams for the dispensary, Moore said there just aren't a lot of properly zoned usable options.

"I will say this, and I do understand everyone's concerns, the group that we are here, I can't speak for everyone else that made an application up here, but I can tell you unequivocally, you're not going to find better business partners and better people to be up here. We're mature people. We're business people and we're looking to respect the values everyone has here," Moore said.

Following the public participation portion of the meeting Chairman Williams addressed the public's concern that the facility might stir up trouble on Route 66.

"That is something you can't handle until it comes up sir," he said. "It's like putting up a liquor store or a bar. You can't tell me there is not going to be a drunk driver. There is not going to be somebody trying to break into the liquor store. It's something that can't be determined until it is done. A conditional use permit can be canceled as easily as it is issued."

Commissioner Harry Schmitz said the business is not consistent with the city of Williams general plan and tourism in general.

Commissioner John Holst asked what a more appropriate location might be.

"I live next to the Canyon Club and I'm going, listen, this will have no impact anywhere close to the day and night out of control drunks up and down, amplified four nights a week. And, we put up with it," he said. "And, I don't see a person in this crowd that even talks about that. That doesn't make this right or good. I'm saying we keep talking about the image of Route 66. Let's get over that."

Holst added the guidelines created by the city of Williams are fairly stringent and that if a dispensary is placed out of site, more opportunity exists for illicit activity under the radar.

"We're better off having it in public and requiring that it be in full sight of everybody knowing that this is a potentially hazardous situation. Could be. And, keeping an eye on it," he said.

Williams said the location in question meets the required criteria.

"The location he has picked rubs people the wrong way but it falls within the parameters and the laws of the state of Arizona and the ordinances of the city of Williams," Williams said. "We do not have the right to tell him to take his business down to the freeway just like you don't have the right to tell me to take my business back on the back street."

Massey agreed with Holst that a downtown location was likely more secure than elsewhere in Williams.

Holst, Williams and Massey voted to approve the conditional use permit with Schmitz voting against and Gabe Ayala abstaining. The commission will now recommend to the city of Williams City Council that the conditional use permit be approved.

Kellie Peterson, city attorney for Williams with Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden, P.L.L.C., said if the city council approves the application, then the applicant will be granted a conditional use permit for the property.

"Essentially, the city is stating that the use does not violate the zoning code, but does not make any representations as to the legality under either state or federal law of the operations of the dispensary," Peterson said.

The city council meets at 7 p.m. at Williams City Hall tomorrow.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Article comment by: Keith Wilmot

The city ordances can be changed. That's what local control is all about. The residents of Williams have the right to determine where they want certain businesses. The council needs to step up and boldly respresent the people of this town and stop trembling at the feet of some upstart business. Keep this type of business out of sight just like a porn shop or strip club.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: big talkers

What part of LAW SUIT don't you understand? The City can't turn it down, they followed all the state,county, and city rules. Who is going to run agains't the council, you Keith? You Seymour, two people that nobody in town even know.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: Bobby Patricca

Keith, it appears that the Council's hands may be tied. Did you read what the Attorney said at the end of the article? All the P&Z and City Council can do is vote on whether or not this permit meets the zoning laws that have been voted on by our Council in the past. If you are opposed to this, remember that the Council already approved the Ordinance unanimously. They cannot vote "no" on this simply because they do not like the business itself. What Commissioner Williams said is 100% correct.

"The location he has picked rubs people the wrong way but it falls within the parameters and the laws of the state of Arizona and the ordinances of the city of Williams," Williams said. "We do not have the right to tell him to take his business down to the freeway just like you don't have the right to tell me to take my business back on the back street."

Again, I personally am opposed to this dispensary being in Williams in the first place. I just don't feel it fits our community. Again, I encourage Mr. Moore and Ms. Wuensche from CRG to look to Flagstaff for their business. They would be much more effective in having their business in a larger city. Flagstaff has entire areas dedicated to medical-related facilities that this would fit into absolutely perfectly. For CRG to continue to pursue this in Williams, when it is apparent that a large portion of our town does not want it here, makes for hard feelings in the future.

That being said, people need to understand that the current Council, just as the P&Z were, is not in a position to deny this just because they oppose personally the type of business being conducted there. If approved, I'm sure our city leadership and police will have a close eye on this business to make sure they are simply fulfilling their medical procedures and not turning into what some of the critics have claimed and become a "back door for organized crime and gang activity". If this business does not conform to all of the laws in place, I absolutely would want to see them shut down immediately.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: john aguilar

Maybe those of you that sound off should do a little research before you sound off. The council has no choice under the legislation that voters approved but to approve a location within the district (Williams being one of those distircts) that fits the zoning for this type of buisness. You can be assured if the council doesn't approve a location they will be sued and will lose in court. I'm sure no council member wants this type of activity in our city but thier hands are tied. I'm not going to get into a debate about this over the comment section of the newspaper but I'm tired of reading comments from people who have no clue as to what is really happening and blaming our council for something they have little to no control over.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: Understand the Law

Very nice Keith and Seymour, threaten to boot them out of office for following the law that they're charged with upholding. And keep in mind it wasn't a law the Council passed, it was forced upon them by the voters of Arizona. They're not saying marijuana is good or bad, they're simply obeying the legal requirement that this facility be allowed. I would guess that most of them are personally opposed to marijuana, but I also would guess that they are all mature and intelligent enough to be able to differentiate between their personal beliefs and the requirements of the law.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: Seymour Smith

That's ok because none of the people responsible for this will not be returning to their jobs next election.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Article comment by: Keith Wilmot

Very simple Council Members. If you vote for this you will be out of a job very soon.

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