In November 2018, Missourians approved Amendment 2, legalizing the cultivation, production, sale and consumption of medical marijuana with a sizeable 65.5 percent of the vote.
Columbia is now preparing for medical marijuana. The amendment allows local governments to enact city-specific ordinances related to medical marijuana as long as they don’t conflict with state law.
Patrick Zenner, Columbia’s development services manager, and other city staff have drafted recommended ordinances and are discussing them with the Planning and Zoning Commission before presenting them to the city council on May 20. Columbia plans to enact its ordinances on June 3, the day before the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services opens its applications for medical marijuana facilities.
Amendment 2 blocks facilities from being located within 1,000 feet of primary and secondary schools, churches or day cares but allows cities to change this distance. Zenner’s map maintains this 1,000-foot radius, meaning facilities will not be allowed in almost all of downtown Columbia.
Zenner said the city is taking a cautious approach in order to protect “the public health, safety and welfare” of residents.
“Better for us to take a conservative approach at this point than be too wide open because you can't stuff the horse back in the barn once it’s out,” he said.
Zenner and other city staff only had two months to produce their current recommendations. Zenner said the city chose to keep its ordinances close to state law given the difficult time frame.
“When I was told I needed to have something done before June 3, I looked at my calendar, and I said, ‘That's almost impossible.’ They said, ‘You don’t have a choice,’” he said.
Some members of the Planning and Zoning Commission take issue with the 1,000-foot radius, but Zenner said the issue is non-negotiable.
Attorney Dan Viets, who helped write Amendment 2, is a local advocate for medical marijuana who said it needs to be accessible to those who need it. He said the radius should be decreased to 200 feet so dispensaries, which he likens to pharmacies, can be located downtown.
“Many of the patients who need access to cannabis as medicine are downtown. And indeed, many of them are either disabled or too poor to own a car. It's not a simple thing,” he said.
He said Columbia should follow the lead of Missouri towns like Springfield and Kirksville which are planning to decrease the 1,000-foot buffer.
Viets is also concerned that the city is rushing its timeline. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will not accept appplicatons until August 3. DHSS does not expect medical marijuana to be available for purchase until as early as January 2020.
Viets has voiced his concerns about the 1,000-foot buffer to city council member Ian Thomas, who said he will consider the change.
“I'm certainly open to looking at creating an adjustment to that rule, either by reducing the distance or some other adjustment,” Thomas said.
City council member Mike Trapp, who will be abstaining from voting on the ordinances due to his involvement with medical marijuana in the private sector, said the 1,000-foot buffer could change if necessary.
“I trust my colleagues to come to an informed decision. Nothing is ever permanent. We are going to want to look at these things over time,” he said.
Trapp, who has seen the benefits of medical marijuana from his time as a drug policy reform advocate, said what’s most important is that patients get access to the medication they need.
“It's really going to have the biggest impact on people who have chronic disease issues by having another safe and effective treatment to be able to [treat] that,” he said.
City staff and the Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing for the city’s recommended ordinances Thursday, May 9.
*This story has been updated to include Attorney Dan Viets' concerns about the city's timeline for enacting its ordinances.