TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Those licenced to cultivate medical marijuana said abandoned and empty warehouses in Tucson would be the perfect sites for them to cultivate the crop and turn the eyesores into lucrative, money-making operations for the city.
In order to do that, the city would need to change a zoning restriction that medical marijuana growers say is sending them to places like Phoenix and Santa Cruz County.
Right now Tucson zoning laws state growers can only cultivate the crop on 3,000 square feet of space. In Pima County it's even more restrictive, at 2,000 square feet. In places like Phoenix, growers said there was no limit to the amount of space they could use. In a growing industry with business booming at the dispensaries, and more people getting approved for medical marijuana cards, dispensary owners said they needed to have a facility that would support growth.
Jean Paul Genet, who owned the Purplemed Healing Center adjacent to the Howard Johnson Inn on South Freeway, said it had been a struggle to have enough product in their store to keep up with the demand.
Genet already had one 3,000 square foot cultivation site in East Tucson and was in the process of building another greenhouse near the Pima Air Space museum. Many other dispensary owners were able to cultivate a small amount of medical marijuana in Tucson, but it wasn't enough, according to Demetri Downing, a consultant for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Industry.
"Right now they're buying it from Phoenix for the most part," said Downing.
Genet said being able to grow his product in Tucson meant he could keep his prices low. He hoped to eventually cultivate 50,000 square feet of medical marijuana; that was more than ten times the current amount allowed by the city of Tucson.
Downing said a group of dispensary owners was working with Tucson city council members to bring the issue up for a vote.
Ward 2 councilman Paul Cunningham said, although he was not advocating for medical marijuana use, the law was here to stay and he was on board if it meant bringing jobs to Tucson.
"It's out there, it's medical law and we can either get on the ball or lose out to Phoenix which seems to be the mantra here, and I don't want that to happen," said Cunningham.
Cunningham gave Tucson News Now a copy of a memo he had sent to the City Manager's Office, asking for the item to be discussed during a study session.
Tucson's Planning and Development Services director Ernie Duarte said he the item would be discussed during a study session on March 18th.
Duarte said medical marijuana cultivation sites can only be located in areas zoned as industrial or heavy commercial.
Downing said they did not want to change the zoning laws, just the space restriction that limited grows to 3,000 square feet. He added that several dispensary owners and licensed cultivators from all over Arizona had expressed interest in looking at the empty warehouses in Tucson. He planned to bring a group into town to show them potential spaces on Sunday but, in order for them to be able to grow there, the city would need to amend the restriction.
"It's just another example of how jobs just flow out of our community when they don't have to, especially when medical marijuana is supported by 70-85% of the Tucson community," said Downing.