Commissioners discussed city ordinances for medical marijuana dispensaries after more than an hour of public comment during Thursday’s Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. In the end, the regulations were approved to pass along to the Columbia City Council — along with recommended changes.
After much debate, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to require only a 250-foot buffer zone between medical marijuana dispensaries and churches, schools and day care facilities but to keep the recommended 1,000-foot buffer for other medical marijuana facilities.
The commission also voted to to strike the provisions limiting the number of medical marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana-infused products manufacturing facilities and dispensaries. Commissioners also voted to remove the second-story regulation, which would mandate that dispensaries be located on the second-story of buildings in mixed-use downtown areas.
Medical marijuana patients, medical marijuana advocates and an attorney took the podium to show the regulations put forth in Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Missouri.
City staff met with P&Z on April 4, April 11 and April 18 to discuss marijuana regulations.
Patrick Zenner, Columbia development services manager, said city staff would not change their recommendations to City Council but would include public and commissioner comments in staff reports for council consideration.
Zenner said the staff recommendations are the “most conservative of those (cities) that we have evaluated.”
The meeting concluded with voting on every aspect of the proposed regulations. Commissioner Michael MacMann said that the City Council will receive the same regulations regardless of commission votes.
“I don’t see what we’re doing,” MacMann said.
He chose to abstain on all votes, except for voting no on approving the definition on facility types.
Building buffer zones
City staff recommended keeping the 1,000-foot buffer zone proposed in Amendment 2, which would remove the possibility of dispensaries in downtown Columbia.
Zenner said the city staff advocates the 1,000-foot buffer because it will be easier for the city to decrease the buffer zone than increase it if unintended consequences arise with a lower buffer. Additionally, he said the buffer was developed to address potential community wide impacts.
City staff cited “minimal time” in creating regulations before the Department of Health and Senior Services announces medical marijuana facility application criteria June 4.
Attorney Dan Viets said the support that Amendment 2 got in Missouri when passed is a mandate. He said that waiting to see if downtown residents support a decrease in buffer zone is “ridiculous,” considering the support the amendment received.
“This town is not a very conservative community. When it comes to this issue, this town is extremely enthusiastic,” Viets said.
However, Viets said it would make more sense for Columbia to wait until the criteria are announced and the final form of state rules are in place.
St. Louis and Kirksville eliminated the buffer zones for dispensaries entirely. Ellisville, St. Joseph and Creve Coeur reduced the buffer zone to 300 feet, Viets said.
In a letter sent to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday, Viets said the needs of patients should be first priority for City Council members. Some medical marijuana patients suffer from decreased mobility, so having dispensaries downtown will increase ease of access. Viets suggested dispensaries be allowed anywhere a pharmacy is allowed, though also said a 200-foot buffer would be reasonable for Columbia.
All but one public commenter was also in favor of decreasing or eliminating the buffer zone. Some cited their own or their loved ones’ accessibility issues.
Viets helped create Amendment 2 and is president of New Approach Missouri, working to help patients have access to medical marijuana.
Missouri will begin accepting license applications for facilities Aug. 3, and Viets said the state will not begin granting licenses until the end of the year.
Amendment 2 also allows city governments to change the second-story provision. As downtown Columbia is excluded because of the buffer zone, city staff said new structures will likely need to be built in downtown-platted areas to comply with this regulation.
The staff memo said the Columbia Police Department supports the second-story requirement.
Planning and Zoning members considered making plans for conditional-use permits for dispensaries. However, city staff said that they would rather create broad regulations before the DHSS releases its official application criteria.
These decisions come from researching other cities that have integrated medical marijuana, considering the proposed regulations from the DHSS and speaking with industry representatives, legal professions and city staff members, according to the staff report.
All public commenters spoke against including the second-story provision. They cited their own health and accessibility issues that would hinder getting their prescriptions.
Safety concerns and undue burdens
Commissioner Anthony Stanton brought up concerns with safety because of the “cash-heavy” nature of dispensaries.
MacMann said he had done research on crime related to medical marijuana dispensaries. MacMann said other cities are not seeing crime increase in cities with medical marijuana, and in fact see a decrease. MacMann also said that installing an elevator in a building would cost around $150,000. He said this seems like a contradiction with the “undue burden” clause in the amendment.
Viets said there is “no reason for any neighborhood to fear the location of a dispensary, but embrace it with open arms.”
The City Council will tentatively hold a public forum on medical marijuana June 3.
Supervising editor is Claire Colby.