Those wishing to open a medical marijuana facility will have to pay a $2,000 application fee under rules approved by the Columbia City Council on Monday night.  

The council voted 5-1 to approve the addition of Article 13 to Chapter 13 of the city code, which outlines the rules for obtaining a yearlong license to operate a medical marijuana business. To operate in Columbia, a business will need a license from both the city and the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer voted against the rules, and Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp was absent.

Most of Monday night's council discussion centered on dispensaries because of a city ordinance that caps the number of dispensaries to seven. If the state approves seven or fewer applications, all of those applicants will receive a city license. There isn't a cap on the number of manufacturing, cultivation and testing facilities allowed in the city.

The application for a state license was due Monday. It's unclear, however, when the state licenses will be awarded. To account for the DHSS schedule, the council unanimously voted to amend the original bill to allow business owners 21 days after receiving a state-issued license to apply for a city license, and a 60-day period for the city to award those licenses.

The original ordinance would have allowed for a two-week period to accept dispensary applications for a city license, from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15. 

Approximately 2,100 applications for medical marijuana licenses in Missouri have been submitted to DHSS, City Counselor Nancy Thompson said at the meeting. Of 592 applications that were prefiled before the end of July, 31 are in Columbia, she said.

"There's going to be some pretty stiff competition as (state) applications are approved," Thompson said. "Regardless of what we do, it's going to be complicated." 

Among other regulations, the bill requires a $2,000 fee to cover the cost of reviewing the application, along with any additional costs the city incurs for doing criminal background checks.

At the meeting, council members and citizens shared concerns about the original two-week application period and the cost to business owners, as well as the potential for wasted staff effort.

Dan Viets, a Columbia lawyer who specializes in marijuana cases, shared his concern about limiting the number of dispensaries in Columbia to seven. 

A three-member marijuana facility license review board made up of Interim Director of Finance Janet Frazier, Director of Public Health and Human Services Stephanie Browning and a citizen appointed by the council will review licenses. If the state approves more than seven businesses in Columbia, the board will use a "bonus points" system as a tie-breaker to determine which seven city applications are approved.

Businesses owned by women, minorities, service-disabled veterans or veteran-owned small businesses will receive five bonus points under the system.

Applications for dispensaries located 1 1/2 miles or more from city hall will receive five bonus points, and dispensaries located 2 miles or more from the building will receive 10 points.

Assistant City Counselor Jose Caldera, who helped in writing the bill, said the location points were the "simplest and cleanest way" to keep the businesses from clustering in one area.

"There's no reason to deny any dispensaries downtown. That's where most people are, that's where most patients are," Viets said.

Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer said he thought the location points were unnecessary.

"It still just feels a little bit ... overengineered," Pitzer said about the amended ordinance. 

Ten points will be awarded to applications that include a "cultural competency plan," which describes how the dispensary will ensure that services are provided equally to people of all "cultures, races, ethnic backgrounds and religions in a manner that recognizes, values, affirms and respects the worth of the individual," according to the bill.

Applications submitted by business owners from Columbia will also be awarded bonus points based on the number of local owners and those owners' stake in the company. 

Council members shared an understanding that medical marijuana is an unknown for Columbia. 

"This is like a modern day gold rush," Mayor Brian Treece said.

Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart. 

  • Fall 2019 public life reporter. I am a senior studying international journalism and Spanish.

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