Snuffed out: Neighbors fume over smoke shop bid

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Nick Bastian was among protesters who responded to a call that mobilized neighbors in response to a proposed smoke shop at McClintock Drive and Warner Road in Tempe.

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of the front-page story in our edition delivered to households and racks. We had already gone to press when the city of Tempe responded to a follow-up question about the appeals process. 

By Joyce Coronel

The vacant space inside the strip mall on the southwest corner of McClintock Drive and Warner Road in South Tempe will not be the place to buy tobacco, bongs, rolling papers or smoking paraphernalia, thanks to the efforts of a group of nearby residents.

Gravitate Smoke Shop, which operates stores in Scottsdale and Peoria, applied to Tempe’s Development Review Commission for a use permit but was denied last month at a public hearing. Tempe spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said that the business owner had missed the deadline for appeal to the DRC but that the applicant did have the option to file an appeal in Superior Court.

“From the city’s perspective, the use permit denial stands,” Ripley said. “Re-application or new application of the same cannot submitted to the city for at least one year after the decision.”

Nick Bastian, an area Realtor who has lived near McClintock Drive for the last 15 years and in Tempe for most of his life, was one of those opposed to the proposed smoke shop’s permit application.

“The thing the community came out against is that it just didn’t seem like a good fit for the neighborhood. There’s one thing about maybe a high-end cigar shop, a true smoke shop, but this place seemed to be geared more toward bongs and pipes and things like that,” Bastian said.

Bernadette Coggins, past president of the Kyrene School District Governing Board, pointed to the presence of nearby schools as one more reason Gravitate shouldn’t be allowed to operate in the area.

A member for the last 10 years of Tempe Coalition—an organization devoted to reducing teenage drug and alcohol abuse—Coggins said she believes “these types of businesses send the wrong message to our youth.”

Coggins referred to a survey conducted by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission that  includes 8th, 10th and 12th graders living in South Tempe, which she said revealed how “desensitized our youth have become regarding smoking marijuana.”

The 225-page report, available online at azcjc.gov, includes the survey given to students. Coggins said the report indicates that “71.3 percent of youth see no or only slight risk associated with marijuana use and 53.9 percent see no risk with smoking regularly.”

Matt Smith of South Tempe attended the hearing at which Gravitate sought a permit. He fumed that the vape shop owner “openly dismissed and disrespected neighbors during their testimonies. “If this is how he treats the community today, why would we expect anything different once he opens up shop?” Smith said.

“It’s clear that the vape shop owner didn’t do his research,” said Smith. “McClintock and Warner is an active, family-centered community. People like to walk here, ride their bikes and meet neighbors for coffee,” Smith said. “Nobody is walking around looking for a place to buy a bong.”

As to whether it would appeal the DRC decision, Gravitate’s owner did not return phone calls from Wrangler News requesting comment.

Although the company was prevented from opening in South Tempe, that doesn’t mean the area is free of such businesses. “High Maintenance,” a smoke shop located in a plaza within walking distance of Corona del Sol High School’s campus, has been around for years. A sign on the door advises that only those age 18 and up are permitted entry.

High Maintenance, a smoke shop within walking distance of Corona del Sol High School, stocks an extensive inventory of glass pipes and other paraphernalia.

Wrangler News visited High Maintenance and spoke with 23-year-old Dakota, an employee who declined to be photographed but allowed photos of merchandise on display. Among the wares for sale are rolling papers and a substantial array of glass pipes, some costing as much as $551.

“The pipes are for medical, tobacco and hookah,” he said. “They are for tobacco use only.” When asked if the pipes could be used for marijuana, he replied:

“That would be your call.”

Two large, neon-lettered signs near the entrance to High Maintenance advertise bongs and scales. And the colorful flag emblazoned with a large marijuana leaf? “It’s just a decoration,” Dakota said.

“We are not a [medical marijuana] dispensary. We don’t sell any of that. If you have your card, there are certain glass things and vaporizers you can purchase.”

Some 80-200 customers visit the store daily with an average purchase of $40, Dakota  said, adding that clientele is “literally from 18 to 80” years old. He repeatedly stated merchandise was for “tobacco use only.”

Officer Brad Breckow, the Tempe police resource officer for Corona, said he is aware of   the shop’s existence and doesn’t doubt some of its offerings may pop up on campus.  Most people who smoke tobacco buy commercial cigarettes, he said, not loose tobacco.

Breckow’s main focus, he said, is educating students about marijuana and other drugs.

“I try to have open and honest discussions,” Breckow said, adding that most kids learn about drugs from friends or movies—not medical journals. “I hear a lot of things from them that are not true. I give them the facts.”

Marijuana, Breckow tells the students, is not a benign substance and can lead to  negative short- and long-term consequences. As far as the pipes sold at High Maintenance, he said, the police can’t do anything until someone puts something illegal in them.

“Probably most of that stuff is not used for tobacco,” he said. As to the effect the shop’s presence has on Corona students, Breckow said:

“With the shop being there, it definitely piques their interest.”

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