TUCSON – Tom Cox is a devout Buddhist but also an innocent bystander in a dispensary debate.
Cox’s East Lester street home is adorned with Buddhist decorations. It’s also the focus of a flyer recently mailed to residents calling Cox’s home a church. Cox considers his home a church and says about six people pray there periodically.
By city ordinance, a church must be “a minimum of one-thousand feet from a medical marijuana dispensary.” A dispensary called “The Prime Leaf” plans to open near Cox’s home.
Pima County tax records list the house as a primary residence. Tucson’s Board of Adjustment voted 6-0 that Cox’s home, which also is an Airbnb, is not a church. This cleared the way for “The Prime Leaf.”
The flyer says, “Buddhism is not a religion in the City of Tucson.” It contains photos of Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Councilmen Paul Durham and Steve Kozachik.
The new dispensary would be in Durham’s ward. He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, “The flyer is full of made-up facts.”
Rothschild said, “I’ve learned that it’s more important to work on things that are constructive than to stew about people who are trying to be destructive.”
Kozachik told us, “The people at Downtown Dispensary ought to be ashamed for using religious bigotry as a ruse for a competitor, for stopping a competitor from being able to open. That’s all this was.”
Durham said, “Moe Asnani from “The Downtown Dispensary” is behind it all and he doesn’t want the competition.”
We asked Asnani, “Are you afraid of “Prime Leaf” opening up just a little over a mile from here?” He said, “I have no fear of Prime Leaf.”
After Asnani said he has no fear about the news dispensary, he sent us several emails, implying that it shouldn’t open because a school is nearby. Chapel Haven West is indeed a school and only 500 feet away from the new Prime Leaf.
However, Zoning Administrator Russlyn Wells pointed us to city zoning code which states, “A medical marijuana dispensary shall be setback a minimum of 1,000 feet from a K-12…school.” Chapel Haven West, a private, special ed school, starts at 12th grade. Wells told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, “It does not meet city standards” requiring a setback.
While Asnani claims he has no fear of “The Prime Leaf,” whoever sent the flyer disapproves. The flyer says “The Prime Leaf” is “violating” the law. Asnani denies he’s behind it.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked Asnani about the flyer. “Who ordered it?,” we asked. He replied, “I don’t know.” The flyer’s return address says it came from a group called “Citizens for Religious Freedom.” We asked Asnani, “Do you know who they are?” He said, “I have no idea.” We asked, “Did you hire anybody to do this (send the flyer)? He said, “I did not.”
The flyer’s return address lists a group called “Citizens for Religious Freedom” with a Phoenix post office box. We couldn’t find any such group but traced the P.O. box to a group called “Conserv (sic) America Building a Brighter Future.Together.” Its treasurer is listed as Gibson McKay. He is also Moe Asnani’s lobbyist.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators asked Asnani, “Did your lobbyist put out a flyer without your permission?” He said, “Not to my knowledge.” We asked, “You didn’t ask him to do it?” “I did not,” he said. We followed up: “Are you saying you didn’t know about this flyer until it went out?” “Exactly,” he answered. We asked, “You had nothing to do with it?” “ “I did not,” he said.
Asnani alleges a conspiracy by the mayor and two councilmen because “The Prime Leaf” is co-owned by a former councilman. However, the city council did not vote on this.
The flyer also says a dispensary can’t open near Cope Behavioral Services,” calling it a “drug treatment facility.” But the city said Cope, “does not meet the definition of a licensed residential substance abuse facility.”
“The Prime Leaf” already has another dispensary in Tucson. Its co-owner Brian Warde was asked what he would say about the flyer to the owner of “The Downtown Dispensary.” “I don’t have anything to say him,” Warde told us. “What I will say is I will let the public and the patients and the community decide what that looks like.”
Asnani said, “My concern is that we’re applying these zoning standards equally for all religions.”
But again, the city disagrees. “The Prime Leaf” has a Certificate of Occupancy is scheduled to open its new dispensary on N. Park Ave. next month.
If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.