Recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries to get same zoning restrictions in Springfield

Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 8:14 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missouri dispensaries can start selling recreational marijuana as early as Monday, February 6. The state has until then to accept or reject applications from the medical marijuana dispensaries that want to expand their services to the recreational side.

Chip Sheppard, the attorney for nine of the 11 dispensaries in Springfield, said that of the 192 dispensaries statewide, only one had not applied to sell recreational pot.

With that February 6 deadline looming, the constitutional amendment also requires communities to make adjustments in their ordinances to include recreational facilities. After much debate over the matter, the Springfield City Council decided on Tuesday to give recreational facilities the same zoning regulations as the medical locations.

A marijuana facility in Springfield (recreational or medical) must be at least 1,000 feet from a school and 200 feet from a daycare center or church.

The new state constitutional amendment that legalizes recreational marijuana use allows for a 1,000-foot separation for schools, daycare centers, and churches but states that local governments can enable them to be closer.

Springfield City Council member Craig Hosmer, who ended up as the lone dissenting vote in the decision, had been very vociferous in wanting to keep the 1,000-foot barrier for all three types of places.

“A medical facility has different requirements and different clientele,” he said. “And when you open it up to recreational, it’s going to be a wholesale difference. Other communities have seen increased crime. And rather than placing these closer to daycares and churches, I think we should follow the constitution and use that 1,000-foot separation for all of them instead of 200 feet. It just doesn’t make any sense to want to have recreational facilities all over the city of Springfield. I think we’re going to rue the day that we passed this ordinance.”

“My reason for supporting it is to keep a consistent standard with what we have for medical marijuana,” countered fellow council member Matt Simpson. “That one involved a lengthy process with a lot of staff review and analysis where we decided to limit the locations to only certain areas where they were appropriate. I think those limits have worked well so far. Given that, in all likelihood, all the existing medical facilities will become comprehensive and be the only facilities selling recreational, it made sense to have consistent standards.”

Why worry about setting different zoning restrictions for recreational marijuana facilities when the medical marijuana businesses will be the only ones allowed to sell recreational marijuana first?

New recreational-only facilities are allowed under state law at some point in the future, and there are also some legal concerns.

“The (Missouri) Department of Health and Senior Services (which oversees the marijuana business in Missouri) has capped the number of dispensaries in any congressional district at 24,” Sheppard explained. “Additionally, the micro-licenses (for recreational sales only) will allow for six additional dispensaries in the 7th congressional district over the next three years. That’s two that will be licensed in October in the entire 7th district. Then two more in the summer of 2024 and two more in 2025. So that’s six more dispensaries in a district that runs all the way from the Kansas state line to the Arkansas state line to the east of Rogersville and way north of Springfield. So the possibility of Springfield getting any additional micro-dispensaries is not great. And if they do, they’re getting one or two at the most. Also, if the zoning regulation wasn’t worded right, someone could come along and say the medical dispensaries would have to split the license between two locations and have the recreational facility separate from the medical one. If that happened, they’d probably all move outside the city.”

Sheppard also pointed out that the approval of recreational marijuana came at a crucial time for the medical marijuana industry.

“The estimates were that 40 percent of the dispensaries around the state would go out of business without recreational,” he said. “The way that they’re taxed effectively turns into about a 70 percent tax rate because they’re taxed on gross profit instead of net profit. So they can’t write off utilities, employee expenses, insurance, or rent. All they can write off is the cost of goods sold. So the dispensaries pay an enormous tax rate to the federal and state governments.”

Crime was a major topic during the discussion leading up to the council’s vote, with both sides offering different views as to whether dispensaries increased crime in the area.

“I provided the council with several studies that show crime actually goes down around a dispensary probably because of the extra lights and security cameras,” Sheppard said. “These are high-definition cameras, and nobody wants to commit a crime on-camera unless they’re not very bright. Plus, there are two secure entrances you have to go through to get into a dispensary, so I don’t think it’s going to generate more crime. And if it does, the industry generates so much money in taxes, around $2 million a year for the 11 dispensaries in Springfield, that you could put a police car at every dispensary.”

Springfield Police Lt. Stacey Parton spoke for the department at the council meeting.

“The biggest crime we’ve had at a dispensary so far is a commercial burglary,” he said. “So we have not seen an increase in criminal activity, and the dispensaries do have a lot of security measures. However, if you look at the 19 states that do have medical and recreational marijuana, they do have an increase in overall crime not necessarily connected to the dispensary but to marijuana use itself. Several states saw an increase in fatalities. Having people under the influence of marijuana while driving is involved in fatal crashes has gone up in many of those states. And driving under the influence of any drug is still illegal.”

Parton said the Springfield Police Department has been preparing for next week, when recreational marijuana can be sold as the state enters a new chapter in its history.

“We can’t really predict what it’s going to be like because we haven’t dealt with it yet,” he explained. “It doesn’t come into law until next week, so time will tell on what we experience. There were hiccups throughout the process with medical marijuana, like what type of identification the state required and delays in how that was rolled out. But recreational has already impacted law enforcement’s ability to do certain things. For example, the odor of marijuana is no longer probable cause to search certain vehicles. So we’ve already had to adapt to the legal challenges it brings. We’ve even had to look again at our police service dog training program. So our officers are well aware that this is a new horizon, and we are concerned. I challenge anyone to do the research on their own and Google what’s happening in Oklahoma City and areas around us with violence related to the overall legalization of marijuana. The fact is this doesn’t eliminate the black market. I checked today, and it costs $80 less for an ounce of marijuana from a dealer in the area than from a dispensary. And some studies I’ve seen show that because of the costs and the overproduction of legal marijuana, some of that legal marijuana gets put into the black market. And once it comes out of the dispensary packaging, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. So it’s going to be difficult to track down those on the illegal side of the marijuana trade.”

The city of Ozark updated its marijuana zoning ordinance in mid-January with a 100-foot buffer from schools, daycare, and churches, the same as medical dispensaries.

Nixa and Republic have their recreational zoning updates on their agendas for later in February.

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