Room To Grow: Tucson Looks To Up Date Code To Allow Larger Dispensaries, Drive-thru Service, Other Adjustments

Courtesy photo
Ana Brotons helps George Roop, Prime Leaf’s first adult use customer.

As the rules surrounding adult-use recreational pot work their way through processes from the Arizona Department of Health Services to the municipal level, the City of Tucson is zeroing in on updates to its zoning ordinances to help adjust to the new reality of legal weed.

A series of meetings and study sessions considering updates to the dispensary zoning code began in August 2020 with an emergency resolution to address the need for physical distancing in the lobbies of Tucson dispensaries.

Current zoning limits dispensaries to 4,000 square feet, with a maximum one-quarter of that devoted to lobby space. The Tucson City Council agreed to loosen those rules to more space for those waiting for service at dispensaries as well as to allow curbside pickup, home delivery and the use of drive-thrus where they exist in buildings that have been converted to dispensary use.

Key amendments for consideration in the latest round include code updates to parking, dispensary size, lobby size, layout, dual-use facilities and drive-thrus.

Among the changes proposed are increasing the maximum size of a dispensary from 4,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet, removing restrictions on drive-thrus for marijuana facilities and amending the ordinance to reflect the new reality of legalized adult use. A stakeholder meeting in mid-October led to several COVID-related temporary measures to increase sales options and expand floor space to accommodate social distancing.

An additional stakeholder meeting in December sought feedback for code updates Planning and Development Services has been tasked to achieve by April.

In mid-January, Tucson's Planning and Development held two virtual public meetings to discuss proposed amendments to the UDC, two weeks before the Arizona Department of Health Services gave the green light to adult-use licensees to begin recreational sales.

The Tucson City Council has scheduled a public hearing and review of the amendments on March 23.

The meetings continued Wednesday night (after press time) with a study session. Next Wednesday, March 17, at or after 6 p.m. there will be a virtual public hearing to present proposed updates to the public.

For more information and to find a link to the March 17 meeting, go to the Planning Commission page at www.tucsonaz.gov/pdsd/planning-commission.

Prop 207 allows local jurisdictions to create their own rules around recreational weed, but they are not allowed to create ordinances more restrictive than what is currently allowed for medical dispensaries.

DISPENSARIES ARE OPEN: The Prime Leaf and Downtown dispensaries are the latest local shops to begin recreational sales.

Prime Leaf began sales on Monday, March 8, at the University (Park Avenue) location. CEO Brian Warde says the Midtown Speedway location will begin sales at the end of the month. Sales are online only with no walk-up service for adult-use at this time.

Recreational customers can go to theprimeleaf.com to make their orders and will be offered a window of time to pick up their orders, while medical patients can still get their medicine in-store.

Warde wants to ensure his medical patients continue to receive the product and service they have come to expect at Prime Leaf and although there has been about a 20%-25% increase in prices—mainly on flower—to reflect increased costs for wholesale cannabis, medical patients will still enjoy daily 20% member discounts and daily specials. There is plenty of product at this time, although Warde says that due to the long-term effects of recreational sales and testing requirements, "we won't really know what it looks like until the market adjusts."

But overall it's a big step into the future and away from punitive War on Drugs policies that have affected lives for decades.

"We're working to get people trained for the new frontier," Warde said. "It's really exciting to think about how many people have been waiting for this day and how many lives have been ruined [by the War on Drugs]."

On March 5, both Downtown Dispensary and D2 kicked off recreational sales after some extensive remodeling to add pickup windows and additional upgrades to payment systems.

"It's been crazy busy," said owner Moe Asnani. "Demand is there and we're trying to make it as easy for our customers as possible."

To that end, the Downtown Dispensary website offers a link to street parking options and encourages able-bodied recreational patients to leave curbside parking for medical patients.

While Asnani says there has been a "significant adjustment in pricing," there are still discounts available for patients and on products, including Downtown's iLava brands.

Online ordering is encouraged at thedowntowndispensary.com, and don't forget to bring some form of legal identification to get in the door.

Applications for adult-use sales began on Jan. 19, and by the end of January, AZDHS had issued 86 dual licenses and sales kicked off nearly two months before expected.

Other Tucson dispensaries selling adult-use recreational weed are Hana Meds, Earth's Healing North, Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center, Bloom and Harvest as Southern Arizona's dual-license cannabis dispensaries, with more to come in the weeks ahead.

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