City Hall

Nogales City Hall

Weeks after voters in Arizona and Santa Cruz County approved a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana, the Nogales City Council passed an ordinance that blocks a weed dispensary from setting up shop in the city, and prohibits any use or possession of pot on municipal property.

The mayor and six council members voted unanimously to pass the rule, though it wasn’t clear who proposed the idea. And there wasn’t much discussion about why the council wants to restrict marijuana use and sales after Proposition 207, the state ballot measure, passed by a margin of roughly 2,800 votes in Santa Cruz County.

“I don’t want to have that in the community and I don’t think that the people that I represent want to have it,” said Councilman Marcelino Varona, Jr., the only elected official who made significant comments about the ordinance during a study session and regular meeting on Wednesday.

“It would be interesting to know… how the people in the city, the city precincts, feel about the issue,” he added later.

There are 24 separate voting precincts in Santa Cruz County – 12 in Nogales – and the ballot measure won approval on a majority of votes in all individual precincts. (See sidebar.)

While the state ordinance legalizes consumption of marijuana and possession of up to an ounce, as well as authorizing dispensaries to sell the drug for recreational use, it also leaves room for municipalities to limit how marijuana is sold and used within their city limits.

That’s precisely what Nogales is doing with the ordinance, City Attorney Massee told the council at the Dec. 2 study session.

The city ordinance will ban recreational pot shops and marijuana testing facilities within Nogales, and also prohibits use – or even possession – of the drug on municipal property like parks or city buildings.

Prop. 207 already prohibits people from smoking marijuana in public, but critics complained that it neglected to ban public consumption via edibles or vaping. The city ordinance now outlaws those activities as well.

A violation would be considered a Class 1 misdemeanor and penalties would follow a section of the city code related to general code violations, Massee added. That portion of the city code establishes punishments including a fine up to $2,500 and/or six months in jail.

The ordinance doesn’t block a medical marijuana dispensary from opening in Nogales, however, and Massee said that the city could potentially issue one medical dispensary license. Medical marijuana is regulated in Arizona under a separate set of rules that that came after voters legalized it in 2010.

The city ordinance itself offers some clues about motivation, though Massee said the text was largely borrowed from a similar measure developed by the City of Surprise, Ariz.

“The city seeks to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the City of Nogales by prohibiting marijuana establishments and/or marijuana testing facilities in the city,” it states.

The ordinance also suggests that the use of “butane and other flammable gases” in the process of making pot products “poses a threat to the health, safety, and security of the community and increases the responsibilities of law enforcement and other city departments to respond to violations of state and local laws, including building, electrical, plumbing and fire codes.”

Butane is a common natural gas used to make lighter fluid and in products like gas-powered grills and camping stoves.

During the study session, Varona noted that the city could stand to profit from a marijuana dispensary in town, which would pay sales tax to the city government. Massee said that estimates about licensing and sales would be needed before gauging any potential financial impact.

But after raising the issue, Varona reiterated his primary stance: “I’m not a big-time supporter of all this stuff.”

The rule was passed unanimously and is slated to take effect 30 days after the Dec. 2 meeting.

Aside from the restrictions specified by the city ordinance in place, Prop. 207 allows people 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six plants in their homes.

Public smoking ban

In another action on Wednesday, the mayor and council approved a separate ordinance that bans smoking (presumably tobacco) in all public places within the city, including municipal parks and sports venues.

Mayor Arturo Garino said the rule had been suggested to him by the Mariposa Youth Coalition, a group affiliated with the Mariposa Community Health Center.

Violations of the smoking ban will be met with progressively larger fines: $100 for a first offense; $200 the second time; $300 for third and subsequent violations. In addition, three or more violations in any 24-month period may be charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

The ordinance doesn’t specify whether vaping is covered by the rule.

The council approved the smoking ban unanimously and with little discussion.

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