Government & Politics

As Missouri prepares for medical marijuana, KC moves to set rules, protect schools

Kansas City took a more cautious approach Thursday to regulation of medical marijuana than some Missouri cities as the entire state prepares for the rise of the industry.

Missouri voters in November approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana that provided some flexibility for cities to set their own rules. Now, state and local officials are writing regulations ahead of growers and distributors setting up shop.

The City Council Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted 3-1 in favor of an ordinance barring medical marijuana-related businesses from opening up within 750 feet of churches, schools and daycare facilities. That decision came despite a recommendation by the City Plan Commission that the city create a buffer zone for cultivators, manufacturers and testers but allow dispensaries to open anywhere.

The full council sent the ordinance back to committee after a failed attempt by Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas to amend the ordinance and reduce the size of the buffer zone. Lucas, backed by a minority of the council, wanted a 300-foot buffer zone similar to those adopted in St. Joseph and North Kansas City.

Now, the committee will work out the disagreement.

Under the state constitution, cities are allowed to restrict marijuana-related businesses within 1,000 feet of schools and churches. They are not allowed to create a larger buffer, but they can adopt more lax rules than those enacted by the constitutional change.

St. Louis officials decided not to create any sort of buffer. Springfield adopted the 1,000-foot maximum buffer zone.

Councilman Kevin McManus, 6th District, along with fellow colleagues urged incrementalism in Kansas City’s embrace of medical marijuana. He said he was afraid Missouri officials might reel in cities’ discretion.

“I know that there are certain folks in the Senate that would like us to not be that permissive, and I’m a little concerned that if we are that permissive, then there could be a backlash,” McManus said.

Advocates of medical marijuana argue the 750-foot requirement would severely restrict access to the drug in highly populated areas, where there are numerous churches, schools and child care facilities.

“In the urban core, every corner you have a church or daycare in a short amount of distance,” said Dre Taylor, of Nile Valley Aquaponics, who wants to help those in Kansas City’s urban core start marijuana-related businesses. “So trying to find a good spot is one challenge, but then one that is 750 feet beyond that is going to be a little tougher.”

Taylor also argued transportation might be an issue for those who live in the urban core and take jobs at marijuana-related businesses on the outskirts of town.

Monrovio Perez, who is visually impaired, said he navigates Kansas City on the bus and that restricting where medical marijuana businesses can operate would make access more difficult for patients.

Lucas was the sole vote against the ordinance in committee and argued for looser buffer requirements.

“I think if Creve Coeur can handle it at 300 feet, if St. Joseph can, if our neighbors in North Kansas City can, then I don’t know why Kansas City, Missouri, needs a more restrictive requirement,” Lucas said.

But others contended that medical marijuana needed to be sufficiently far from children in schools and daycare facilities.

Emily Small, a community prevention specialist with the Northland Coalition, said she was concerned about childrens’ exposure.

“In the pivotal times of their life when they are growing and learning about the dangers of drugs, we’re putting medical marijuana facilities and dispensaries right next door to them,” Small said, arguing against smaller buffer zones.

Former Councilman John Sharp argued for more restrictive buffers, saying the city could always loosen them later but that it would be difficult to allow marijuana-related businesses to set up shop and then later add additional regulations.

“I do not think we need to expose our young children to one more addictive drug — whether it’s for medical use or not — at an early age,” Sharp said.

Missouri voters’ November approval of medical marijuana kicked off a process to set up what has become a burgeoning industry in other states.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released application forms for potential patients to bring to their doctors earlier this month and will start vetting applications Friday.

The agency won’t begin screening business applications until Aug. 3, but it has already received 543 pre-filed forms statewide and almost $4 million in fees. Jackson County leads the state in applications to grow and sell medical marijuana.

DHSS has 150 days to evaluate business applications after they’re received, so the first dispensaries probably won’t open until December or January.

This story was updated to include the City Council debate.

The Star’s Andy Marso contributed to this report.
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