Slow Growth Tucson

Tucson's economy is suffering because the city has capped commercial marijuana farms

In 2003, a factory owned by doorknob manufacturer Weiser Lock closed in Tucson. The company, which employed more than 1,000 people here in its 1990s heyday, was sending its last 150 factory jobs to California, because it just wasn't viable to keep them here anymore. The Weiser Lock departure story made headlines in local news.

In 2011, Bombardier, an aircraft services company that outfits luxury jets, among other things, expanded in Marana. The Arizona Daily Star did a story about it, because people were happy that 100 Southern Arizonans were getting jobs. In 2004, a Cross Country call center here added 100 jobs, and again the jobs sparked news reports. In 2012, Maumee Assembly and Stamping announced it would expand, and again "100 jobs" was a headline.

In 2013, Bloom Dispensaries, an Arizona-based cannabis chain, wanted to build an indoor commercial marijuana farm in Tucson, one that could serve dispensaries and patients all over the state, bringing money here from other communities and providing more than 150 jobs.


The reason you didn't hear the news about these jobs is that they didn't materialize, couldn't materialize, because Tucson has an ordinance that hobbles the legitimate cannabis industry. Dispensaries can't grow more than 3,000 square feet of cannabis here, which is about 1/80th of what Bloom wants to build. And not only is Tucson not getting the jobs, Phoenix is getting some of them. Our larger, less attractive and apparently wiser neighbor to the north, has no limit. This is starting to cost us, as dispensaries ramp up to full commercial production of meds.

Under state medical marijuana rules, each dispensary is allowed to have one associated commercial cultivation site. Where they put it is up to them, and since Phoenix allows huge grows, Bloom is growing in a warehouse at the edge of that city, not ours.

I sent an email to every member of Tucson's city council, asking them what they think about all this. Only two responded. Karin Uhlich from Ward 3 wants the city to be consistent and to encourage economic development.

"I am open to reviewing our existing ordinance to see how this is unfolding in Tucson and across (Arizona and the U.S.), and considering adjustments based on what we learn from that," she said in an email.

Paul Cunningham of Ward 2 is all for expanding this limit. He wants Tucson, not Phoenix, to get the jobs and associated benefits. But there would have to be public hearings and study sessions and lots of thinking and planning in the halls of government.

"We can't just snap our fingers and change the law," Cunningham said. Instead, he urged Bloom to apply for a variance to the zoning laws, which could happen faster than a change in the ordinance. The first step is a presentation to the Council about the cultivation limit, he said.

Cunningham is concerned about the potential bleeding of cash to other parts of the state. He wants Tucson to get its meds from local growers and be ready when recreational cannabis comes to Arizona.

"I'd like to see some of these facilities operational, so that when the recreational transition happens, we can be ready," he said. Cunningham expects that in the next three years.

He thinks cannabis gets short shrift in economic development discussions, because many authorities still have a bad taste in their mouths from the olden days, when marijuana was bad. Now we are starting to see it isn't so bad, Cunningham said, but a lot of folks in government just haven't come around yet.

Ultimately, Tucson's cultivation limit doesn't just hinder the burgeoning cannabis industry, it hurts all of us.

When hundreds of people get jobs, they shop. They buy clothes and gas and food and drinks. They pay taxes, so your kids can have computers at school and so we can have cops on the street. They contribute to the economy, and these potential Bloom employees would contribute more than a lot of folks, because they would make more money that those poor call center folks who spend their days sending tow trucks to rescue old ladies stranded on America's roadsides. So their jobs help all of us.

Isn't that what we want?