Medical-Marijuana Dispensary Sues Fountain Hills Over Competitors' Distance From "Church" Run by Pot Marketer Al Sobol

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The lawsuit, filed on July 9, also names the dispensaries' competitors as defendants, including the Healing Company, Nels Pederson, Vladimir Buer, Lawrence Berle, Hedjazi LLC, and Mark and Kimberly Steinmetz.

The town has issued zoning permits to several would-be dispensary owners -- namely, the above-named defendants in the lawsuit. But under rules set up by the Arizona Department of Health Services, only one dispensary will be allowed to operate in Fountain Hills, an upscale community in the east Valley. The rules also dictate that dispensaries cannot be located within 500 feet of a church.

Nature's Healing Center has a permit issued by Fountain Hills and isn't near a church -- which means it should not be facing competition by the defendants when the state holds its random drawings next month for the limited number of authorized dispensary locations, the lawsuit states.

The problem is that Fountain Hills improperly issued permits to the defendants, which seek to open dispensaries within 500 feet of the Universal Life Church. The church inhabits a small office at 16929 East Enterprise Drive, in the town's small commercial district.

Sobol's church opened in March after registering that month with the state corporation commission as a non-profit corporation in mid-March. The articles of incorporation are signed by the "Reverend" Allan Sobol, who tells New Times he was ordained in 2006. Sobol says it's a "legitimate church" and that he has led occasional church services at the location. He even sent a blurry picture of him standing behind a pulpit, "preaching" to a couple of people.

Sobol says he has no relation with Bedrick, and has "never had a single discussion with the guy."

In the March 17 letter obtained by New Times from the town, Fountain Hills' senior planner Bob Rodgers writes to Sobol that he had a conversation with "your representative," Bedrick, about the church's status as a non-profit.

However, in the April 25 edition of the Times of Fountain Hills newspaper, Bedrick told reporter Bob Burns that he was not "working with or for" the church in any way, and has never done so in the past.

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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.