Cottonwood Medical Marijuana grow house wants to expand

COTTONWOOD - Cottonwood's City Council has been asked to change its zoning restrictions on medical marijuana facilities to allow local businesses to expand to meet market demand.

Demitri Downing, whose corporation operates the Cottonwood growhouse, says if he is not allowed to expand local facilities, he will have to move the operation out of town.

The City of Cottonwood first established zoning in 2011 after Proposition 203 was approved by voters in 2010 establishing medical marijuana industry in Arizona.

The law regulating operations of dispensaries cultivation facilities, and the like, are pre-empted by the state under the Arizona Department of Health Services for permitting and approval of dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Local zoning regulations control placement and separation of those facilities from each other and from schools and churches.

City long range planner Charles Scully says local jurisdictions were under the gun to enact zoning regulations shortly after the state approval and there was no time to understand the needs of the industry in the long term. He says today, local business have called for changes in the regulations as the business matures.

Cottonwood established Section 308 of the city code establishing zoning provisions for medical marijuana. Cultivation in Cottonwood is limited to 10,000 square feet and infusion kitchens are limited to 5,000 square feet and must be separated from other facilities.

Scully presented six changes to the Cottonwood regulations. Among the proposed changes is to eliminate size limits for cultivation and infusion facilities. Changes would also allow cultivation and infusion processes in the same location without separation. An infusion facility would be permitted as an accessory use to a dispensary. Infusion is used to place medical marijuana in products such as edibles, beverages and other consumables.

An early proposal also would have expanded the operational hours of a dispensary to 10 p.m. from the 7 p.m. limit.

Councilman Tim Elinski said, "If they want to grow their business, we don't want to restrict it, even though I am not crazy about becoming the hub for both wine and marijuana."

"I toured both facilities," said Terence Pratt, another council member and I was impressed at the professionalism of the operation."

Jesse Dowling say "Cottonwood's Community Plan stresses that agribusiness, healthcare and manufacturing and this fits all those categories."

Karen Pfeifer is not so supportive. She noted there are issues that divide the intentions of the federal government and the state including banking laws reference marijuana sales. Demitri Downing says, Medical marijuana is here to stay, it is no longer about whether we like it or not, it is about the ability to compete. In Phoenix there are 36-industrial warehouses growing medical marijuana.

Bill Jackson, a contractor, told the council he supported the proposal. He has a $750,000 contract to expand the facility if the council allows for the expansion of medical marijuana facilities in Cottonwood.

The council took no action during the work session.

An ordinance will be drafted to amend Section 308 and presented to the council for approval at a future meeting.

After the council work session Tuesday, Demitri Downing, a former court prosecutor, told the Verde Independent, "This discussion wouldn't have happened if we hadn't pushed this issue. We could have just packed up and moved back to Phoenix. But, we like it here. We like the people of Cottonwood. The grow house doesn't advertise itself. No one knows it is there. If you believe that marijuana is a problem, then regulate the use of marijuana. But, if you are smart, then you capitalize off the production of it."

"We are in a 16,000-square foot building now, but we can only use 10,000 square feet of it. We grow 5.6 crops a year. We would also like to have the opportunity to expand our capacity in the future. All the medical marijuana groups now are locating in jurisdictions where they have the potential to expand as the industry grows."

"Right now our plans for a $750,000 construction expansion contract are on hold until we see if the ordinance is approved," says Downing.

--contact jhutchinson@verdenews.com or @_jhutchinson on Twitter

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