Marijuana Dispensary Hopefuls Make Inquiries in Rural Greenlee County; Plan Would Disperse Pot Stores Throughout State

  Greenlee County's population of about 8,500 supports only one pharmacy. Yet a plan devised by the state Department of Health Services could mean the rural area of eastern Arizona will be home to a marijuana dispensary.

It seems unlikely that anyone would decide voluntarily to open a specialty retail store catering only to state-approved customers in a sparsely populated region like Greenlee. As we noted in our previous blog post on the subject, the DHS plan defies good business sense. But for entrepreneurs not lucky enough to score a license in an urban area, opening a pot store in BFE may be better than not opening one at all.

Indeed, the rush to the state's far corners has already begun.

Would-be dispensary owners have been calling the county, looking for information, says Kay Gale, Greenlee county administrator.

Kay says one person had asked whether it was okay to grow medical pot in one county, then sell it at a retail store in Greenlee. (The answer is yes.)

Only about 50 people live in the upper two-thirds of the county, which is covered by national forest land. Morenci, Clifton and Duncan are the only towns, though only the latter two are incorporated. Kay says the dispensary may end up on unincorporated county land, so county planners are working on possible zoning regulations.

Like state regulators, county officials are interested in creating a 25-mile no-grow zone. To do that, the best place for the dispensary would be near the three-way split of state highways seen in the map at left.

We're not sure how many customers it would take to keep the lights on at a rural marijuana dispensary.

Some small towns in this money-poor state are already have trouble attracting or maintaining more mainstream businesses.

The Web site for Ajo's Chamber of Commerce, for instance, begs for new businesses and specifically seeks a book store, veterinarian and movie theater. Could a pot dispensary be the anchor tenant that Ajo, population 4,000, is looking for? Or would it be just one more struggling and soon-to-fail store?

The DHS' final proposed rules come out on March 28, and public hearings across the state are set for February 14-17.



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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.