/ Modified sep 11, 2014 11 a.m.

Tucson Council Lifts Size Restrictions for Medical Marijuana Cultivation Sites

Councilwoman Uhlich says scratching overly restrictive regulations for local sites can help lower costs for patients.

Medical Marijuana Earth's Healing
Earth's Healing

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The Tucson City Council has voted to lift zoning restrictions on medical marijuana cultivation sites. Advocates and council members say this can benefit the city's economy.

Vicky Puchi-Saavedra, owner of dispensary Earth's Healing in Tucson's south side, said Tuesday night's decision will help create jobs and fuel great revenue for the city. Now that cultivation facilities can be bigger than the previous 3,000 square-feet limit, dispensaries are set to expand.

"It is like trickle down economics, you don't just hire a grower, you hire bookkeepers, you hire warehouse managers..." Puchi-Saavedra said. "Aside from the sales tax we are paying, city sales tax, so we are helping the city instead of moving our warehouse out of Tucson, back into Phoenix."

Like Puchi-Saavedra, many local dispensary owners had to buy their medical marijuana from cultivation sites in Phoenix, where there is no zoning restrictions for these sites, then ship it to Tucson.

Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said patients were suffering the consequences of strict regulations. Puchi-Saavedra pointed out dispensaries were having to buy medical marijuana nearly at retail price, making it nearly impossible to offer customers lower costs.

"Most of the product was being cultivated in Maricopa County and in the Phoenix area, which added cost to patients in our area," Uhlich said. "And so we are really monitoring what is happening across the state as the law gets implemented and recognizing that being overly restrictive simply ads cost to patients in Tucson."

She also agreed the local economy can boost thanks to the council's decision.

"Any time we can produce anything locally, it does create jobs and reduce costs," Uhlich said.

A main concern in Uhlich's ward was the potential impact lifting zoning restrictions would have in residential areas.

"We wanted to emphasize this is governing industrial zones, which are typically well buffered from residential areas, so I think those concerns were addressed," she said.

Puchi-Saavedra said dispensaries will also be able to keep up with demand. Before, they ran out of certain strains of medical marijuana quickly and couldn't replenish until the next Phoenix trip.

"We (Earth's Healing) already have a building, now what we are going to do is get it equipped, get it ready to grow...we hope to have a lot more products for our patients...home-grown v. choosing from other cultivation centers," she said. "We will be able to have a steady stream of most popular strains available."

The council also voted to let patients get home-delivered medical marijuana, to extend hours of operation for dispensaries and allow for marijuana infusion kitchens at dispensaries and off-site cultivation facilities.

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