Happy Valley

Northwest Tucson community loosens its medical marijuana dispensary laws

If you're looking to buy medicinal weed in Oro Valley, it just got a little easier after the Oro Valley Town Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday, June 1, to allow dispensaries to open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Council member Joe Hornat provided the sole vote against the change.

Previous zoning codes in Oro Valley designated that medical marijuana dispensaries were only allowed to operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But Catalina Hills Care asked the Town Council for permission to expand their hours of operation because they felt that they were losing a significant amount of business to Tucson dispensaries due to their 5 p.m. closing.

Tucson hours of operation for medical marijuana dispensaries are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Catalina Hills Care representatives argued that with the nearest dispensary to their facility being in Tucson, Oro Valley patients who wish to pick up their prescription after 5 p.m. were forced to drive to Tucson, causing them to take tax money and business away from their community.

Members of the community and patients at Catalina Hills Care told the council that business was being lost to Tucson due to early closure. Oro Valley medical marijuana patients spoke nothing but praise for Catalina Hills Care, with several saying that they would much rather give their business to the Oro Valley dispensary not only to support their community, but because it is a well-run facility with a professional atmosphere that most dispensaries do not have.

Oro Valley resident William Meeks, who has nearly three decades of experience with law enforcement (including a sting with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, said that as a patient of Catalina Hills Care, he had seen the benefits of medical marijuana and the professionalism of the business.

"They are a true dispensary," Meeks said. They are not a pot mill, after visiting dozens and dozens of dispensaries throughout the state I can tell you what are pot mills and what Apothecary-type dispensaries that care about the people are ... When I went in dispensaries, I had a police perspective. I thought this was a foot in the door for a legalization opportunity for stoners. Guess what I found, people just like me, and worse."

One of the initial worries about extending hours was safety. After inspection, the Oro Valley Police Department deemed that there was no inherent safety risk by letting the dispensary stay open later.

The inspection doesn't satisfy everyone's concerns about safety. Oro Valley resident Shirl Lamonna believes that extending the dispensary hours will make marijuana more accessible to the Oro Valley youth.

Jennifer Corey, principal for Zoning Strategies LLC, asked the council for the same treatment as other pharmacies in the area.

Vice Mayor Lou Waters said that point made sense.

"I can't see any reason to restrict the hours just because it's marijuana," said Waters, who added that he took a tour of the facility, where he learned about the safety, security and how the business operates.

Corey told the council that just because the dispensary's owners are asking for the ability to be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the dispensary might not stay open that late. If the later hours don't turn out to be profitable, then they will likely close earlier. But the owners know that there is a demand for later hours.

While Tucson and Oro Valley now allow dispensaries to open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., other communities in the area—including Marana, Casa Grande and Sahuarita—limit operations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pima County and South Tucson both limit operations to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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