About 50 people packed Blue Springs City Hall earlier this week for lessons in how legal medical marijuana will impact the community.
The city’s assistant director of community development, Mike Mallon, said the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is charged with implementing legalized marijuana after Missouri voters approved it a year ago. He said the state has adopted “some rules to retain government control” of what he called a “highly regulated” industry.
Mallon said just because marijuana is legal for medical use, that doesn’t mean anything goes.
“You can’t just walk down the street and use,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s designed to be done in the privacy of your own home.“
One complication Missouri and its many municipalities face is the variety of businesses it takes to produce marijuana – growing, cultivating, testing, extracting, manufacturing, transporting and selling.
The state grants cities the right to establish some of their own provisions. For instance, the state suggests medical marijuana businesses be at least 1,000 feet from churches, schools and day cares. While cities are prohibited from making the distance greater, they can establish regulations that lower the proximity, Mallon said. Blue Springs officials have adopted three ordinances governing the industry so far, but more may be added later, Mallon said. For instance, the law allows testing facilities to be closer to churches, schools and daycares, at 300 feet. But, city officials scrapped the setbacks for downtown Blue Springs, Mallon said.
Given the city’s established business-zone designations, officials expect many of the businesses to be located along several major corridors, including U.S. 40, Missouri 7 and Woods Chapel Road, Mallon said. City ordinances also govern the appearance of such facilities, especially businesses that may open in recently vacated buildings. As examples, Mallon mentioned several closed businesses along Missouri 7, such as the former Winstead’s and Long John Silver’s near Interstate 70.
In addition, city officials also established some ordinances that parallel state regulations “in order to make it extra clear,” Mallon said, such as hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and banning nuisances and hazards such as noise, vibration, odor, air or water pollution and fire hazards.
The city also is requiring businesses to establish ventilation systems and video surveillance, and on-site marijuana usage is prohibited, he said.
“I think there are certain laws that still need to be written,” he said, citing those dealing with regulation of controlled substances.
“I think that’s going to be one of the biggest problems they are going to have,” he said.
Although a provision in Missouri’s law mandates cities comply by allowing medical marijuana, some states allowed cities to opt out. In some of those states that earlier adopted medical marijuana, some city officials initially were reluctant to adopt ordinances, eventually allowing marijuana facilities.
“When they realized people were driving to the city next door and bringing the substance into their cities, they figured they might as well get the benefit of those tax dollars,” Mallon said.
Applications for operating facilities were due to the state in August and a third-party company currently is conducting “blind scoring,” to make impartial decisions about which companies are chosen, based on numerous factors, he said, determining which companies will be granted an opportunity to open one of 192 dispensaries across the state.
Application fees were pricey, generating $4 million to $6 million from thousands of applicants who wish to open any type of medical marijuana facilities.
“There are going to be some very disappointed people,” Mallon said of the stiff competition. He said state officials estimate retail dispensaries to open in late spring or early summer.
After the meeting, Mallon said he was pleased with the turnout and happy to see people are interested in being educated on the issue.
“I think people are accepting of it,” he said, adding many are “excited, but I definitely think there’s a segment of population dealing with fear of the unknown and unfamiliar and a bit of hesitation about how this all plays out.”
“My fear is we’ll see more impairment,” Police Chief Bob Muenz told the crowd during his presentation. But he warned there are limits to legalization. “If we can prove a level of impairment … it will be enforced the same,” he said, adding that officers will conduct tests to determine levels of impairment much like they do for alcohol.
Muenz said the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District traveled to Colorado to learn more about the fire hazards of marijuana in all areas of production. He said city staff and elected officials will work to update city building codes to ensure the substance is safely managed, especially when extracting oil from the plants, which can be flammable and toxic.
Some at the meeting said they believe in the health benefits of medical marijuana. Chase Toomay said after the meeting that he’s been using medical marijuana for about eight years to help manage epileptic seizures. The 24-year-old Grain Valley resident said he feels the seizures coming on and uses marijuana to “successfully prevent full-blown attacks.”