Flagstaff City Council paused licensing of new marijuana establishments in Flagstaff until regulations in licensing and enforcement can be determined.
The March 2 city council meeting addressed the legalization of marijuana in Arizona through Proposition 207, and decided to hold off on issuing new licenses until the city can determine regulations that encourage local business, prevent chain monopolies in Flagstaff and determine the need for Social Equity Licenses.
Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, legalized marijuana usage, cultivation and possession for adults 21 years and older. The act passed with 60% of Arizona votes Nov. 3, 2020 and came into effect Dec. 1, 2020.
The proposition opened Flagstaff to a new recreational industry and a potentially large increase of revenue, but Mayor Paul Deasy said council should offer opportunities to local businesses before chain dispensaries come into town.
“I am concerned about the monopolization of recreational marijuana in Arizona,” Deasy said. “Let’s keep it mom and pop’s ... Find a way to keep it at the local level.”
Deasy encouraged the council to research regulation that would prevent outside establishments from expanding into Flagstaff. However, a chain dispensary from Mesa has already been established in town.
Flagstaff has two running dispensaries which are dual licensed in medical and recreational marijuana. The High Mountain Health dispensary on South Plaza Way is locally owned, but their competitor, GreenPharms, is a chain from Mesa and Phoenix.
Deasy also requested pausing license distribution until the council could be more informed on Social Equity Licenses, which are distributed to people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs and discriminatory law enforcement.
Beneficiaries of Social Equity Licenses would receive priority consideration, reduced fees and reduced-interest loans.
“The Social Equity Licenses help with income inequality, with decades and centuries of inequities that have occurred in our criminal justice system," Deasy said.
Councilmember Adam Shimoni had other concerns about the legal costs of those under 21 charged with possession or usage of marijuana.
Though the fines are not incredibly steep, $100 civil violation charge for first offense and petty offense for the second circumstance, Shimoni said that financial repercussions shouldn’t be Flagstaff’s route.
“Our court system is overtaxed and has a significant backlog,” Shimoni said. “I just don’t think the will of the voters is for penalties to go through the courts.”
Shimoni advocated for community service rather than financial charges. City prosecutor Brent Harris agreed that community service is the preferred route, but may not be feasible with COVID-19 restrictions and court regulations.
“This is not a scheme to fill the coffers of the city of Flagstaff,” Harris said. “What we are trying to do is listen to the will of the voters, and I believe that in Coconino county 65% [of Prop. 207 vote] sends a strong message to my office and to the [Flagstaff Police Department] that we don’t need to go searching out these cases.”
Harris said the best option for an individual of limited financial means would be community service, but COVID-19 prevents those programs from being successful.
Court fines, Harris said, cannot be lower than $100, and even a fine of $1 would become a $100 charge through fees and surcharges. However, Harris said the court could still order 10 hours of community service in lieu of any financial charges if COVID-19 permits.
Shimoni withdrew his comments after the council decided to leave power of enforcement and punishment to the courts.
Councilmember Austin Aslan agreed with Deasy that regulations encouraging local business would be beneficial to Flagstaff, but said council needs to be cautious in the approach of the recreational marijuana industry.
“I want to be clear that I had issues with allowing dual licenses in Flagstaff,” Aslan said. “I am concerned about the pace in which we invite all of this into our local community.”
Aslan’s concerns were also voiced by the sole citizen comment from Bernice Carver, Flagstaff resident and board member of Smoke Free Arizona.
“Prop. 207 is not smart and is not safe,” Carver said. “We’ve all heard horror stories about high THC marijuana, and many of us have a lot of tragic personal stories.”
While Aslan said he would not stand in the way of the ordinance passing, he advised council to consider slowing the rollout of license distribution, and to seek opportunities for the local community.
Aslan led the motion to limit the recreational marijuana establishment to the current dual license facilities and pause the distribution of future licenses until more information is provided to the council.