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The path for the sale of medical marijuana in Farmington is now clear after the city council approved zoning regulations relating to medical marijuana while in regular session July 11 at Long Memorial Hall.

Farmington Mayor Larry Forsythe summarized a revision from the last meeting leading to the final version of the ordinance to be adopted by the city council.

“[At] the last meeting, the Planning and Zoning [committee had] elected to have 500 feet,” he said. “The state’s maximum was 1,000 feet; the council thought the fairest amount was 1,000 feet. We had to go back and rewrite the ordinance, so that’s why we are doing the first and second [reading] tonight.”

There was no further discussion, and the zoning ordinance was enacted by unanimous vote.

At the previous council meeting on June 24, Ward II Councilman Edward Felker expressed concern about one of the ordinance’s restrictions. He told his fellow council members that he believed 500 feet that the Planning and Zoning Committee recommended was an inadequate buffer zone from schools for businesses selling medical marijuana.

Felker was absent from the June 13 meeting when Development Services Director Tim Porter told the council that the draft ordinance that he presented to the city’s planning and zoning committee had originally decreased the maximum buffer zone allowed by the state of Missouri — 1,000 feet — down to 100 feet to match Farmington’s liquor laws, but the committee chose to compromise between the two distances and recommended that 500 feet be the buffer zone stated in the proposed ordinance. The buffer zone is a minimum distance that medical marijuana facilities have to be from any existing school, church or daycare.

“So, a thought to think about and I think it is for all of us to consider, certainly I’ll voice that I’m not for medical marijuana or any part of marijuana coming or making it legal,” Felker said. “I truly think the intent behind medical marijuana is not for the medical part, it’s for the recreational use that’s going to come afterwards. So, I think, as a council one thing that we have to consider is that we know it’s coming to Missouri, but does it have to come to Farmington? Do we have to make it easier for the facilities to come to Farmington?

“I mean, the law allows us to go up to 1,000 feet. Why make it easier by dropping it down to 500? That’s my opinion because the benefit to the city is going to be the revenue. I don’t know if we need that revenue. The downside is going to be some of the other things that are going to come from medical marijuana. You’ve got to think about what is going to happen if marijuana is in a home with kids.

"It’s the same thing that you see with regular prescription drugs. I think we’re going to see some of these things. So, anyway, just my opinion, my thoughts expressed here, I think we move to change this from the 500 [feet buffer zone] to the 1,000. That’s what I would do. We can’t stop it from coming to Missouri, because the law has been passed, but we can make some restrictions to make it more difficult to be in our community amongst our children, our grandchildren and everybody else.”

Ward IV Councilman Vanessa Pegram asked Police Chief Rick Baker his thoughts on having medical marijuana outlets in the city. He responded that his department wasn’t concerned. They knew it was coming but were assured the guidelines placed upon them by the state and city would be adequate.

It was noted that potential investors who had attended the previous council meeting might end up being under the wrong impression that the city was voting on a 500-foot buffer zone — not a 1,000-foot one.

After further discussion, Felker made a motion to amend the proposed ordinance to call for a 1,000-foot buffer zone on all distances. The motion was unanimously approved. The council then approved a motion to postpone the second reading of the ordinance, as amended, to its next meeting.

At the June 13 Farmington City Council meeting Development Services Director Tim Porter explained to the council that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) — the oversight agency for the sale of medical marijuana at the state level — was in the process of drafting a set of rules and regulations that were expected to be completed by June 4 and that applications for those wanting to apply for a facility would be taken beginning Aug. 3.

“Part of the requirements for those who are applying, among other things, is zoning compliance if they are applying for a city or county that has zoning regulations,” Porter said. “Simply put, a dispensary is a facility that we would likely see someone wanting to put in Farmington that would sell medical marijuana and the associated products to a qualified individual as determined by a medical doctor and an affidavit that is turned in from the DHSS.

“I’ve been told that we may have as many as two slots allotted for St. Francois County. It could be more, it could be less. There’s a lot of factors that we don’t know about that would determine that. But we had to come up with a set of rules and regulations — and they all pretty much fall within our zoning ordinance.”

Porter noted that Amendment 2 passed by state voters in November, by default, sets a buffer zone of 1,000 feet around the respective facilities from an existing school, church or daycare.

“So, should the city choose to adopt that 1,000-foot buffer, that would be an option and you could essentially leave it as it is,” he said. “But you also have the ability to lower that buffer distance to as little as zero, or somewhere between zero and 1,000. We cannot exceed the 1,000-foot buffer — the amendment is clear about that. The emphasis that was expressed to us from the DHSS is one of patient access.

“For that reason, my recommendation to the Planning and Zoning Commission was to lower the distance to 100 feet, which would match the state’s liquor law in the statute which we actually follow for establishments to sell and serve liquor. Planning and Zoning opted to make a recommendation of 500 feet, which is somewhere in-between.”

Other recommendations that were made to the city council by the Planning and Zoning Committee included:

Due to intense power and water use of a marijuana cultivation and infusion facilities, the recommendation for the city council was to restrict cultivation to the industrial park.

Any dispensary will not be less than 1,000 feet from another dispensary.

Dispensary hours of operation may only take place between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Onsite usage of marijuana products is prohibited in any medical marijuana facility.

A medical marijuana license must be prominently displayed at every facility.

Any outside storage at any cultivation or infused product facility would have to be enclosed by a 10-foot fence with razor wire on top.

According to Porter, being approved by the state to run a medical marijuana dispensary will require that the owners follow strict guidelines such as installing alarms, high-tech surveillance systems and odor guards; personnel controls and rigid requirements for gaining access to facilities.

“Fairly stringent,” he said. “Probably more so than even pharmacies have under today’s laws. The rules that the DHSS has imposed upon these potential facilities suggests that there will be a lot of oversight, probably to the point where it will keep a lot of people from even applying.

“It’s an expensive process just to even apply for a license and you’re not guaranteed that you’re going to get it. Then after that, all the things that DHSS is going to require you to do to make the facility secure — guys like me wouldn’t be able to afford to do it. It’s going to folks that have that have a lot of liquid capital on hand, that have the money to get all these security features, controls and things like that.”

Porter told council members that following the meeting there was one additional section that the Planning and Zoning Commission added to the ordinance that covers medical marijuana transportation facilities.

“That will be another facility that could potentially be here,” he said. “It would essentially be kind of a warehouse. One of the things about medical marijuana is that the product that would be sold here would have to be grown in the state of Missouri. It can’t be imported. It’s all going to be homegrown product. There are some provisions — loopholes if you will — that will allow other folks from outside the state to come to the state of Missouri and open these types of facilities, but all the product is going to be grown here.

“So, if stuff goes into effect Jan. 1, folks are allowed to start growing their product, I’m told that a good grower and a hydroponic indoor grower can grow marijuana in six to eight weeks and have the finished product. It will be a couple of months after the first of the year before we’ll ever see any of this product available for sale because it has to come from Missouri facilities.”

While Mayor Larry Forsythe and several of the council members expressed concerns about a few details contained in the ordinance — such as allowing dispensaries to remain open until 10 p.m. — the general consensus was to trust the opinions of Porter and the Planning and Zoning Commission and approved the first reading of the ordinance. The second reading and vote to approve the ordinance will take place at the next city council meeting set for 6:30 p.m. June 24 at Long Hall.

The lengthy process of adopting a medical marijuana ordinance began on May 13 with The Farmington Planning and Zoning Committee meeting. Development Services Director Tim Porter had drafted a preliminary set of ordinances regarding where the city will allow the placement of dispensaries, infused product facilities, cultivation facilities and transportation facilities.

“This is an ordinance draft to present the council for next month’s meeting related to Amendment 2,” he said. "Amendment 2 passed last November and as a result, Missouri became the 32nd state to legalize medical marijuana.”

Porter explained the timeline of the finalizing of state regulations and the availability of licenses to prospective medical marijuana distributors.

“The oversight agency at the state level is the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services,” he said. “They are drafting a set of rules and regulations that are not yet complete and will not necessarily be complete until June 4. Coinciding with the final rules and regulations, applications for the respective type of facilities will be made available to those wishing to apply for one of these facilities. Applications for these facilities will be accepted on Aug. 3.”

According to Porter, the state of Missouri is covering a wide range of issues with medical marijuana businesses, including a minimal amount of regulations regarding where they can be located.

“We can implement controls within our local ordinance that controls where they can be located, hours of operation and things like that,” he said. “What we cannot do is effectively zone them out of town.”

Medical use of marijuana is limited to qualified patients. Qualifying conditions include cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, chronic medical conditions that cause severe, persistent pain and chronic medical conditions normally treated with prescription medication that could lead to dependence. In order to purchase marijuana, a person must obtain a Qualifying Patient Identification Card or a Primary Caregiver Identification Card.

The Department of Health and Senior Services will determine eligibility of applicants for medical Marijuana facilities, which includes cultivation facilities, dispensaries, infused product facilities and testing facilities.

According to St. Francois County Collector Pamela Williams, nearly 65 percent of Farmington citizens voted in favor of Amendment 2 in the November election — nearly mirroring statewide totals of 66 percent.

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Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at mmarberry@farmingtonpressonline.com.

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