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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Council Mulls Buffer Rules For Medical Marijuana Facilities

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has awarded licenses to 192 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Some members of the St. Louis County Council want a 1,000-foot buffer between medical marijuana dispensaries and schools, churches and day care centers.

A constitutional amendment that voters approved last year spells out parameters for facilities that grow, manufacture, test and sell medical marijuana. Included is language that allows local governments to place a 1,000-foot buffer zone between those places. But the planning commission is recommending a 500-foot buffer in unincorporated areas of the county.

Gail Choate, the county's acting planning director, said the council can approve a shorter buffer zone. It cannot, however, sign off on any restriction that is more onerous than the amendment — such as requiring space between facilities and residential areas.

The planning commission most recently proposed a 500-foot buffer zone for dispensaries. Choate said the commission didn’t approve similar requirements for other facilities. The commission had originally suggested a 300-foot buffer zone for dispensaries, but the council sent that recommendation back to the planning commission for reconsideration.

“We didn’t feel as if the manufacturing or the testing or the cultivation required a similar buffer from those types of uses,” Choate said. “They would be in very secure facilities or you wouldn’t even notice that they’re happening.”

Councilman Tim Fitch said he and the two other Republicans who hold a majority on the St. Louis County Council don’t like the planning commission’s recommendations. He said a committee that he chairs will likely send those suggestions back to the commission.

“There’s no big hurry to rush into this. We want to make sure we get it right,” said Fitch, R-St. Louis County. “Because as some of the people in the industry have told us, this isn’t about medical marijuana. This is about full recreational use of marijuana. So we want to get it right before it goes to full recreational use. Because there’s no going back once that horse is out of the barn.”

Fitch was referring to how other states, like Illinois, have allowed medical marijuana facilities to enter the recreational space once the drug is legalized.

Some residents of unincorporated St. Louis County spoke during last week’s county council public forum for bigger buffer zones. Christy Hessel said that because many banks will not allow deposits for marijuana-related businesses, there will be a lot of cash at dispensaries.

“We have enough crime as it is,” Hessel said. “How do you ensure that our communities, especially unincorporated St. Louis County, are adequately protected from crime that comes along with large amounts of cash?”

Choate said that the state has imposed stringent requirements for the security of the medical marijuana facilities. 

If the council doesn’t approve a shorter buffer zone, Choate said, then the 1,000-foot standard would apply for all four facilities that produce, test or sell marijuana. She also stressed that any action the county takes will not affect municipalities.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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