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Church State Issues

Fountain Hills uses "God" to ban marijuana dispensary

Oct 13, 2011

Arizona Republic Article

This issues here is government denies business licenses because is business is within 500 feet of a church which gives churches and religions special rights

Non-profit sues Fountain Hills over marijuana dispensary

Non-profit's suit alleges town 'unreasonably restricts' potential dispensary locations

by Edward Gately - Oct. 13, 2011 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

A non-profit corporation has filed a lawsuit against Fountain Hills, claiming the town's medical-marijuana ordinance "unreasonably restricts" potential locations for a dispensary.

Pure Medical Marijuana & Wellness Center II filed the civil suit in Maricopa County Superior Court. The town and Town Council are named as defendants.

Town Attorney Andrew McGuire said Fountain Hills plans to fight the legal challenge.

"The town's ordinance is a reasonable land-use regulation as permitted by state law," he said.

The center wants to own and operate a non-profit dispensary at 17005 E. Colony Drive.

One medical-marijuana dispensary will be allowed within the town, in a commercial-zoning district that includes the area along Colony Drive off Saguaro Boulevard.According to the suit, Fountain Hills senior planner Bob Rodgers said the town wouldn't take any action on the center's application pending a decision in a federal lawsuit that prompted the need for clarification in the state law.

Arizona municipalities have been considering applications for proposed dispensary locations. Zones established throughout the state determine how many dispensaries are allowed in a given area.

City or town approval of a location does not guarantee a dispensary could open there. Should the law be allowed to take effect, the final decision on who receives a permit would lie with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The only geographical restriction included in the state law is that medical-marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities cannot be within 500 feet of a school, said attorney Jeffrey Kaufman, who is representing the center. The town imposed an additional restriction that no licensed dispensary can be within 500 feet of a place of worship, he said.

At issue is the proposed location of the dispensary in proximity to North Chapel Community Bible Church, which operates in an office building at 16929 E. Enterprise Drive.

"We're trying to force the town to acknowledge primarily that the offices of the church located within 500 feet of the proposed dispensary do not constitute a church because they do not conduct services at that location," Kaufman said.

Marlo Hardy, manager of Messinger Fountain Hills Mortuary, 12065 N. Saguaro Blvd., has confirmed that North Chapel uses that facility for its Sunday worship services.

However, Dan Scruggs, pastor of North Chapel, has said numerous church functions, including Bible studies and worship, take place at the Enterprise Drive location. He said the church encompasses most of the building.

The suit seeks a judicial determination that the activities at North Chapel do not constitute a church or place of worship, and that the geographic restriction imposed by the town ordinance makes it "unreasonable and unenforceable," Kaufman said.

The town and council "purposely adopted an ordinance that unreasonably restricts potential locations" of dispensaries to two vacant lots, which are owned by the same party, he said.