A Scottsdale owner of Joey Smoke Shop on Gilbert Road will have to persuade the state to let him sell beer and wine to go after the town voiced opposition to his request.
Town Council recently voted unanimously to recommend that the state Liquor Board deny Christopher Robin’s application for a Series 10 Beer and Wine Store Liquor License because of an arrest that was still making its way through the justice system. The town rarely objects to a liquor license application.
“There are still six felony charges pending,” said Police Chief Mike Soelberg, who advised against supporting the application. “At this time my request is still to not approve the license based on the pending criminal charges against the applicant.”
Robin was arrested September 2019 by Scottsdale Police and faced six felony charges; possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of dangerous drugs, possession of narcotic drugs, possession of narcotic drug for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Soelberg said Scottsdale Police turned the charges over to the County Attorney’s Office for filing but the case was kicked back to police to do more work.
“They have completed that and they are in the process of resubmitting that case to the County Attorney’s Office,” Soelberg said at the Nov. 10 council meeting.
Scottsdale Police did not respond to a Gilbert Sun News request for the report.
Robin told Council he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and that it hasn’t been proven he has committed a crime.
At the Oct. 13 council meeting, when the issue was continued, Robin said he and a friend had entered another friend’s home using the security pin she gave them to disarm the alarm.
But for some reason, the alarm triggered anyway, he said, adding that police arrived and could not reach the homeowner.
He said he was briefly detained but was released with no charges.
“The Scottsdale Police did not find marijuana in my home, my car or on my person,” Robins told Council this month.
“I understand the police is attempting to provide information to this committee for the sake of the license. The information they are giving are allegations, not facts that I have committed a crime. Nothing has been proven.
“Denial of this license would place a burden on collecting city and state taxes and on my business. The city of Gilbert would lose on taxable income based on accusations. My business, my employees and I would lose on opportunities to grow during these harsh times that we are all going through.”
He asked Council to ignore Scottsdale Police and emphasized he has never been convicted of a crime.
“At the moment I am a business owner trying to make it through these hard times by growing my business that I have worked hard to build,” Robin said. “I have paid the fees and I have taken all the training necessary to obtain this license.”
The council, however, wasn’t buying Robin’s argument.
Vice Mayor Yung Koprowski said outside of the accusations from Scottsdale Police, she believed everyone has the right to enjoy whatever hobby in their home allowed by law.
“We have little desire to infringe upon those rights but having these rights doesn’t explicitly inform the consumer on the danger of mixing substances in a smoke shop and with liquor,” Koprowski said.
“A one-stop shop such as this could represent an inherent endorsement of mixing substances with negative result and I believe it does not offer any benefits to this community.”
Generally, smoke shops and vape shops are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local municipalities have little to do with their control, said Councilman Scott September, adding his statement had nothing to do with the applicant or with the pending charges.
“The result of that is the ATF and the federal government do not have the resources to adequately regulate at the local level and to ensure compliance with local laws,” September said. “I think the result of that we’ll see with minors having access to tobacco products and vape products and I think it’s a problem today.
“I would hate to see the idea of adding another product that has to be regulated and put that in the hands of people who have already demonstrated an inability to adequately control the products that they sell now.”
Councilwoman Kathy Tilque, a retired longtime CEO of Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, said the discussion sounded as if support was based on the business Robin owns.
“I’m a bit concerned that we make decisions based on the type of business from a moral perspective or a philosophical perspective,” Tilque said. “By doing so, does that set a precedence for the decisions that we will be making in the future?”
Councilman Jared Taylor said the last time Council didn’t back a license request was five to six years ago.
“I don’t think this will change or set any kind of precedence because largely we’ve supported liquor licenses in almost very series that come through,” Taylor said. “I think the Council will continue to do that.”
Mayor Scott Anderson said Council also could choose to pass no recommendation to the state board.
Councilwoman Aimee Yentes said she had ruminated on the issue quite a bit because she wants to support businesses struggling through the pandemic.
She didn’t want to be a regulatory burden but noted there was a reason why Council was discussing the application.
“Whether we’re talking about occupational licensing or liquor licenses, there is a government interest to regulate it,” she said. “And specifically, because these charges have a nexus to the kind of business that it is.
“Just like if we were to look at pending charges for a CPA trying to become licensed and he had issues of fraud. We would look at that nexus with a great concern.”
She asked the chief if Proposition 207 would result in some of the marijuana-related charges being dropped.
Arizona votes in November approved the recreational use and possession of marijuana up to 2.5 ounces.
“Based on my reading of this criminal case and the passing of 207, it will not affect these charges because of the quantity,” Soelberg said.
Yentes said the timing was bad for Robin and suggested he pursue his liquor license at a later date.
“The businesses in these cases, in these regulatory environments do have the onerous on them to prove they have the privilege to be granted a license to sell alcohol and especially just considering the particulars of this case,” she said.
“I feel comfortable making the decision to deny,” Yentes continued. “It pains me to say this because I do want to be helpful to our business community. There are other businesses that sell both substances so I don’t necessarily think the mixing in this situation is a problem but just given the information we have today with the knowledge that we have I think that it’s probably the wisest decision.”
Tilque then asked if Robin would consider withdrawing his application and come back when his criminal case has been decided.
“I have currently nine businesses and during everything that has been going on I’ve been able to stay open,” said Robin, whose other operations are wireless businesses. “I’ve been able to keep all my employees employed and helped them provide a life for their family and a life for my family.”
He added the case is over a year old, no charges have been brought against him and he didn’t know how long this process will last.
“I’m just trying to do everything I can right now to keep my business afloat and I feel like bringing in another stream of revenue would probably be one of the only ways I can keep this business operating,” he said.
Joey Smoke Shop LLC was formed in 2013, according to the Arizona Corporation Commission. A call left for Robin at the shop was not returned.
The state liquor board holds monthly meetings if there are cases that are contested and has not received Robin’s application yet.
The Department of Liquor Licenses and Control director generally approves licenses when there are no objections filed, according to Jeffery Trillo, assistant director of the Licensing and Administration Division.
He said the number of actual new and transfer liquor applications that come before the board are relatively small in number.
When making its decision, the board looks to see if the applicant meets the legal requirements under state law such as not having any felony convictions within five years of the application.
Aside from that disqualification, “there is no bright-line rule but in short, the Liquor Board assesses whether an applicant shows oneself to be capable, qualified and reliable to be issued a liquor license,” Trillo said.
“In essence, is this the type of individual who should be entrusted to operate a liquor license-related business, that is, one believed sufficiently responsible to operate a business in accordance with applicable laws?” Trillo added.
The board also will determine if the application is in the best interest of the community, according to Trillo.
In fiscal year 2020, the board heard 22 applications and granted six licenses and denied three, according to department data.
Six applicants withdrew from the process, three had continuances and three filed for appeals. In reviewing the four prior fiscal years, fewer than half of the contested applications were approved.