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Medical marijuana growers breaking zoning rules

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Medical marijuana growers breaking zoning rules

CREATED Mar 23, 2012

Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It's legal to grow medical marijuana if you have the right license--but Tucson and Pima County zoning officials say some growers are breaking other laws about where they can do the growing.

The state medical marijuana law allows state licenses for people to grow medical marijuana on a small scale---for maybe five patients.
The law calls them caregivers.
A state report says, throughout Tucson and Pima County the people with caregiver licenses number 72.
But Tucson and Pima County also require caregivers to meet zoning requirements and zoning officials say the number of caregivers who have complied is zero. 

On Sunday night, home invaders hit a house in the Tanque Verde area.  They stole money, and marijuana.
If not for the home invasion, deputies might have never known the home the bandits hit was growing medical marijuana under a caregiver's licence that allows growing on a small scale, for no more than five patients.
The map from a state report shows where caregivers are...the darker the color, the more caregivers.
Tucson and Pima County require zoning permits for caregiver growing operations. Zoning sets a long list of requirements:  Even small growing operations must be out of residential areas, in buildings with tight security, and more than a thousand feet from churches, schools and parks.
Zoning officials say no caregivers have gotten those permits.
State health director Will Humble has a list of everyone with a permit. The medical marijuana law says he can't say who's on it.

KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith said, "But these local governments would need to know that unless someone would simply file a complaint." 

Humble: "You hit the nail on the head. That's a major disconnect.  And there are a number of problems with this voter initiative language and I talked about that before the initiative passed and Barbara LaWall did too, your county attorney.  There are some real problematic statutory problems with this initiative language one of which is, as the health department we're not allowed to disclose who the patients are and where they live nor, who the caregivers are and where they live."
Officials like Barbara LaWall worry the caregiver growing operations will bring danger to their neighborhoods by becoming targets for criminals.
Medical marijuana advocate Kimberly Haslett says caregiver growing operations do not attract crime and questions whether the home invaders even knew what was in the home they were hitting.
She says there's no legal authority to put zoning restrictions on caregiver grow sites and sees tough zoning as a back door attempt to outlaw medical marijuana.

Haslett says, "We are approaching the Pima County Board of Supervisors and asking them to revisit the regulations, the zoning regulations and if at that time they don't then a lawsuit is possible."

Haslett says a couple of caregivers do have zoning permits but concedes most do not.  She says some may not know the requirements, others may be deliberately refusing to get them, either with or without a lawyer's advice.

State and local authorities say they will change how they handle this issue.
The zoning chief for Pima County says he'll be writing the state health department asking them to make sure caregivers know there are zoning requirements.
State Health says it's just recently put a note on it's site for caregivers warning them they must apply with local laws and zoning.