Marijuana (copy)

Santa Cruz County could have its first retail recreational marijuana establishment before the end of this year, as one business owner moves forward with the process to open up shop in Patagonia.

Aari Ruben of Tucson was one of two applicants who were granted a recreational marijuana license by the state earlier this year to open a dispensary in Santa Cruz County. Ruben’s initial application had listed a potential store address in Tubac, but Ruben told the NI earlier this year that he had a slight preference for opening his business in Eastern Santa Cruz County, given his childhood ties to the Sonoita area.

Now, he’s set to begin prepping his business to open on the main drag through Patagonia, at 436 W. Naugle Ave.

“I’m thrilled. It’s part of what our mission has been as an organization for eight years – to provide safe, legal access to medical marijuana in Tucson,” Ruben told the NI on Monday, adding that the voters’ approval of Proposition 207 last fall allowed him to expand into recreational marijuana in rural parts of Arizona.

“We look forward to fulfill that mandate of the voters and expanding our business operations,” he said.

The shop in Patagonia will be Ruben’s second marijuana dispensary in Arizona, alongside the Desert Bloom Re-Leaf Center in southeast Tucson.

Ruben added that his team is currently in the process of making several security changes to the approximately 1,700-square-foot building in preparation for inspection by the state. Once the whole process is completed he said, he hopes to open up shop sometime in October.

He said he anticipates kicking off with a soft opening with about 20 employees on board. The staff could possibly grow to about 30 employees in the future, he said.

The Patagonia Town Council approved Ruben’s application for a special use permit during a regular meeting late last month.

The permit was approved on a 3-1 vote, with Mayor Andrea Wood and council members Steve Finch and Ron Reibslager voting in favor. Vice Mayor Mike Stabile voted against the action, while Councilwoman Francesca Claverie was not present, according to meeting minutes posted to the town website.

Ruben noted that several members of the public spoke up during the application process to express their opposition and concerns such as cannabis products falling in the hands of minors, and the belief that marijuana could lead to mental health issues.

He added that he agreed with some of those concerns, and would work to mitigate them through education and responsible sales. But other fears, he said, were unfounded.

“We’re kind of used to facing that sort of small, but vocal minority that has issues with our line of work,” he said, noting that Prop. 207 was approved by the vast majority of Patagonia voters. “Overwhelmingly, we’re been well-received in Patagonia… and we expect to be able to fulfill our goal of being an asset to the community.”

Applicants who were awarded recreational licenses by the state in April have a total of 18 months to open their dispensary.

The second state license for a retail recreational marijuana business in Santa Cruz County was granted to an applicant by the name of MK Associates. As of Monday afternoon, Planning and Zoning Director Frank Dillon said that the county had not received any update from MK Associates about any plans for its business.

Both the county government and the Town of Patagonia established rules earlier this year that allow recreational marijuana dispensaries to operate in their jurisdictions. The Nogales City Council, however, passed an ordinance soon after Prop. 207 was approved that blocks a cannabis dispensary from setting up shop in the city.

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