By Nick Worth
A second attempt by Overgaard Compassionate Care (OCC) to obtain a special use permit for a medical marijuana dispensary from the Navajo County Board of Supervisors met with the same result as the first try last November.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board first heard a review of the issue from Planning and Zoning Director Trent Larson for the benefit of new board members Dawnafe Whitesinger and Sylvia Allen. Larson told the board 18 postcards were sent to property owners within 300’ of the parcel in question. A notice of the public hearing was published in The Tribune-News and bright orange notices were posted. Notice of the public hearing was also posted on the board agenda on the Navajo County website.
Larson told the board the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office had no objections to locating the dispensary in Overgaard.
County Manager James Jayne clarified for the board that Sheriff KC Clark does not support the medical marijuana policy, but has said he will uphold the law.
The Navajo County Attorney’s Office voiced no legal concerns with the business provided it meets and abides by all regulations.
Larson added that the Planning and Zoning Department also had no objections to the use of the property for a dispensary. He also noted the county had received more than 180 e-mails and letters in support of the dispensary and only 25 against.
Allen asked Larson where the letters came from, if they were from residents of Heber-Overgaard, and Larson replied he did not have the addresses of the e-mailers and letter writers.
He said the applicant, Overgaard Compassionate Care, had also sponsored an open public meeting since the last board meeting where the dispensary was discussed, and that the applicants had agreed to a number of stipulations in an attempt to address public concerns over the business.
Adam Trenk of the Rose Law Group representing OCC next made a presentation about the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, passed in 2010. Trenk told the board the state distributes licenses after criminal background checks, verification of the source of the start-up funds and receipt of comprehensive security plans. He said if there are no dispensaries within 25 miles of a patient’s home, the patient can self-cultivate up to 12 plants. Caregivers can grow 12 plants for five patients and themselves, up to a total of 72 plants.
Patient cultivated marijuana is not regulated or tracked, Trenk told the board. He said if a dispensary is approved, self-cultivation will not be permitted.
He also noted only five people came to the public meeting sponsored by OCC. Two were reporters and the other three were interested in learning more about medical marijuana.
Among the self-imposed stipulations agreed to by OCC were:
* The dispensary would be closed to the public.
* The building façade and interior were to be renovated to resemble a medical office.
* There would be no reference to marijuana on the signage, including no use of the color green.
* The business hours of operation would be limited to avoid exposure to children. With that in mind, the business would be closed from 6:30 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 5:30 p.m., the hours when school buses might be present in the area.
* There would be state of the art security in compliance with Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) requirements, plus patients would have ID cards and would have to be “buzzed in” to the building.
* OCC would establish a community liaison position to listen to concerns of the community and collaborate with community leaders as needed.
* The special use permit would be subject to a review after one year, at which time it could be revoked if the board of supervisors found any problems.
* No minors under 18 would be admitted without a parent or guardian, even if they had a medical marijuana card.
* All persons must have a patient ID card.
* Loitering will be strictly prohibited.
* Use in public is illegal, so violators will be reported to police by dispensary personnel if seen using marijuana in the area.
“There will be no impact on the neighborhood,” said Trenk. He said there are 119 patients in this Community Health Analysis Area (CHAA). “If each patient came twice per month there would be less than 25 visits to the dispensary per day.”
“Overgaard Compassionate Care has fulfilled all requirements, and agreed to stipulations that go above and beyond what is required by state law or local ordinance,” Trenk said.
Allen then cited increased marijuana use in California following establishment of dispensaries.
Trenk pointed out that California does not limit the number of dispensaries or amount patients use.
Allen then said she had concerns about marijuana being infused in food.
“A dispensary in Tucson is creating brownies and hard candy,” Allen said. “The reason is so that people can use it in public. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Law is not clear about driving under the influence.
“I’m concerned about the fusion of marijuana in foods and the potential for abuse,” Allen said.
“It’s human nature for people to abuse things,” said Trenk. “It’s my understanding the edibles are for folks who are terminally ill, like lung cancer patients. They put it into foods so they can use it without having to smoke it.”
Whitesinger asked how the current 119 people in the CHAA are being monitored and where are they getting their marijuana.
“The state is not monitoring them and where they get their marijuana, I have no idea,” Trenk said. “They have to renew their cards every year and at that time, if there is a dispensary within 25 miles, they will have their license to self-cultivate revoked.”
Supervisor Jesse Thompson asked if the dispensary will put more pressure on law enforcement officers, and if Arizona law supersedes federal laws saying marijuana is illegal.
“It should actually decrease pressure on law enforcement,” said Trenk. He admitted it is possible the federal government could shut down the operators, but that county officials and staff would not be held responsible.
“The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has started a huge crackdown in California,” said Allen. “They have closed down 800 distribution centers in Los Angeles alone.”
Allen also said the Arizona medical marijuana law doesn’t specify what illness you have to have to qualify.
Trenk replied that there were 800 dispensaries in Los Angeles, whereas Arizona is only allowed 126 for the entire state. He pointed to that as a sign that abuse of the law was present in Los Angeles.
He also noted that the AZDHS has specified debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV and others, plus any other condition which may be added by AZDHS.
In the public hearing portion of the meeting, Don Brown of Overgaard expressed suspicion that OCC was not a non-profit.
“There has to be money involved here, lots of money,” said Brown. “How much is an ounce of marijuana going to cost?” He told the board it would be cheaper to grow your own.
“People are making billions in the trafficking of illegal drugs,” Brown said. “This is not a practical system to overcome the problem.”
June Call of the Heber Overgaard Chamber of Commerce said she was concerned with abuse of the law, and with the health and safety of the community.
“Their telephone is already hooked up,” Call said. “Kids are dropped off there from school buses. I think you need to listen to the voice of the people and turn this down again.
“I have almost 300 signatures from people in our community and we know where they come from,” Call said, referring to a petition she circulated in Heber-Overgaard.
Scott McLaws of Overgaard said he and his wife moved to Overgaard a year ago, and that their business shares the same driveway as the proposed dispensary.
“The school bus stops in front of the shop,” said McLaws. “Kids get off there. Last year it stopped every day. This year it stops at least twice a week.”
His wife Amanda told the board their shop was a designated bus stop.
“I’m afraid we’ll lose business because people will have to drive by the dispensary to get to our business,” said Amanda McLaws.
Loren Porter of Heber told the board he is on the local school board.
“We met and found it was not a designated school bus stop, but buses were stopping there anyway,” said Porter. “So we decided, in order to protect ourselves, to designate it as one.”
Heather DeCarlo of Overgaard was the only person in the room to speak in favor of the dispensary. DeCarlo told the board she is a seven-year cancer survivor and that while going through chemotherapy, she was forced to take medications that caused her to become nauseous.
“I was losing weight and I had no appetite,” DeCarlo said. She said doctors kept giving her new prescriptions in order to try to survive the treatments and that she was on the verge of quitting the chemo-therapy treatments, but finally tried marijuana on the advice of one of her doctors.
She said the marijuana helped her get through the last two rounds of chemotherapy.
“This does truly work and it’s the only thing that helped me be alive today,” said DeCarlo. “I do not use recreational marijuana. I only used it for medicinal purposes.
“Alcohol is just as bad,” DeCarlo said. “So are prescription drugs and cigarettes.”
She said many in the group opposing the dispensary most likely drank alcohol, and probably took their children into stores that sell alcohol and tobacco products, exposing them to those things. She asked the board to approve the special use permit.
Trenk then told the board that a lot of the issues raised were not relevant to issuing the special use permit.
“Several folks addressed ‘values,’” Trenk said. “A law was passed in the state, if not Navajo County, and now the board needs to grapple with how to handle that.
“This is not for recreational use. It’s for medical use,” he said.
In other action Feb. 26, the board:
* Approved the purchase of a 2013 Dodge Crew cab pickup truck from Avondale Automotive, Inc. for $39,521.16.
Allen noted that the truck is a replacement for one that was stolen and the money comes from insurance, rather than out of the budget.
* Appointed Glen Johnson to the Navajo County Board of Adjustment from Supervisorial District III for a three-year term.
* Named an existing road in the Heber/Overgaard area to “Misty Ridge Trail.”
* Gave a quit claim deed to Robert Klingelhoefer.
* Approved a proclamation declaring Feb. 26, 2013, as “Day of the Cougars,” and passed out medals to members of the Show Low Junior High School wrestling team for the state championship title they recently won.
* Approved a memorandum of understanding between the sheriff’s office/Major Crimes Apprehension Team and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for reimbursement of joint operations expenses.
* Approved two additional Homeland Security projects.
* Heard a county finance budget update for fiscal year 2014 from County Finance Director James Menlove and the county manager.
Acting as the Navajo County Public Health Services District Board of Directors, the board:
* Approved a grant agreement with Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation for $12,218 for a First Grade Fluoride Varnish Program from March 1, 2013, to February 28, 2014.
* Approved a grant agreement with Delta Dental of Arizona Foundation for $14,985.00 for a coordinator for the Navajo Apache Gila Oral Health Coalition from March 1, 2013, to February 28, 2014.
*Approved a professional services agreement with Nida Lerch, RDH for dental hygiene services through the Arizona First Things First, Navajo Nation, Oral Health Fluoride Program, effective Feb. 1 to June 30 in the amount of $45 per hour.
By Nick Worth