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Judge overturns zoning law on medical marijuana

PHOENIX -- A judge has overturned Maricopa County's zoning ordinance for medical marijuana dispensaries, ruling that the ordinance appeared to be a ``transparent attempt'' to keep the businesses out of unincorporated areas of the county.

Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon on Monday granted a pretrial verdict in favor of White Mountain Health Center, which plans a dispensary for Sun City, and rejected a similar request on behalf of the county.

Gordon said the ordinance was written so dispensaries wouldn't be allowed because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. He also noted there is no available property in Sun City with the zoning category required by the county.

The county has zoning powers to protect public health, safety and welfare but it's not permitted under the medical marijuana law to use those powers to categorically prohibit dispensaries, Gordon said.

Unlike an earlier version of the zoning ordinance, the current version adopted in 2011 ``suggests a transparent attempt to prevent the implementation of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act,'' Gordon wrote.

Gordon ruled in favor of White Mountain Health Center but told both sides that he'll listen to further arguments on practical effects of his ruling Monday.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery said Tuesday the ruling will be appealed but it was premature to discuss details because parts of the case remain pending.

However, Montgomery said the part of Gordon's ruling saying the ordinance appeared to be intended to prevent implementation of the medical marijuana law ``assumes too much.''

The case started over a dispute over whether Maricopa County had to approve zoning for a dispensary in Sun City. It grew to include the larger legal question of whether federal drug laws pre-empt Arizona's medical marijuana law.

Gordon last December upheld the constitutionality of the state's medical marijuana law and ruled that federal drug laws don't stand in the way of public officials implementing it.

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