County holds public hearing on changing code for future medical marijuana facilities

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com

The St. Louis County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing next week to get feedback on how medical marijuana facilities will fit into the county’s zoning, just after application forms for marijuana businesses were set to be available for the first time.

The public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Monday, June 17, at the Administration Building, 41 S. Central Ave.

At a commission Committee of the Whole meeting June 3, interim Planning Director Gail Choate and planner Jacob Trimble broke down the different types of medical marijuana facilities the county could encounter, such as dispensaries, grow operations, infusion facilities and testing facilities.

Trimble’s report also provided general information on how the state plans to oversee these types of operations, including how many would be permitted of each kind and where.

On Nov. 6, 65 percent of Missouri voters voted in favor of Amendment 2, which made Missouri one of 33 states in the country where the drug is legal for medicinal use. Under the amendment, medical marijuana purchases will be taxed at 4 percent statewide, with revenue funding state veterans’ services. The Department of Health and Senior Services has regulating authority over operations and growing facilities.

Because medical marijuana is under the jurisdiction of a state agency, local governments can’t openly prohibit dispensaries, cultivation facilities or other types of marijuana-based operations, nor can local governments enact ordinances or regulations that would be considered unduly burdensome for medical-marijuana-based businesses looking to set up shop. 

Licenses issued by the DHSS will be required for all types of facilities and are valid for three years, until they need to be renewed. Application requirements include compliance with zoning, and facilities cannot be owned by, employ or have board members with disqualifying felony offenses. All facilities will use a DHSS certified “seed-to-sale” tracking system, and appropriate security measures must be taken for all facilities. In addition, facility inspections by the DHSS will be conducted annually.

The state plans to limit the number of licenses for cultivation facilities to 60. Cultivation facilities can be indoor, outdoor, greenhouse or some combination, although the county does not anticipate outdoor grow operations due to Missouri’s climate. Indoor facilities are limited to no more than 30,000 square feet of flowering canopy space, and outdoor facilities are limited to 2,800 flowering plants.

The state plans to limit the number of licenses for infused product manufacturing facilities to 86.

“What I think is important for local jurisdictions is that facilities are going to be required to develop, implement and maintain odor control plans,” said Trimble. “Because that is something that is of concern when these facilities are manufacturing and growing product.”

The state will have two testing facilities, each with a scientific director with specific degrees or experience. The testing facilities must maintain all sampling and testing records for a minimum of five years.

“Every single crop from every single cultivation facility will be required to send samples to a testing facility. These are highly regulated and highly tested products,” said Trimble. “Any facility that does produce an ingestible product… will be required to comply with the state’s food safety regulations and can be subject to county regulations depending on what they’re producing.”

Dispensary facilities, facilities that residents would have the most interaction with, are limited to 192 in the state, with no fewer than 24 in each of the eight congressional districts.

St. Louis County is in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts. Dispensary employees must be trained and provide education materials with purchases. Every transaction will require the proper ID card.

In terms of safety, all facilities must be designed in such a way that the public may only enter through one access point, where agents screen for qualifying status. Beyond the access point, only qualified patients or caregivers may enter. All marijuana sold must have been tested by a testing facility, and any dispensaries selling ingestible products must comply with food safety standards.

As far as issuing permits, the county plans to treat dispensaries as they do retail pharmacies, indoor cultivation as industrial use, outdoor cultivation and agricultural use, testing facilities as laboratories and manufacturing facilities as general manufacturing.

State law does allow local governments the ability to regulate land use aspects of medical marijuana within the framework of “time, place, and manner” and to establish distances from any existing schools, day cares and churches, but no more than 1,000 feet.

Some municipalities in the county have already modified the 1,000-foot buffer. Creve Coeur lowered its buffer to 300 feet. Maryland Heights got rid of the buffer altogether. Similarly, St. Louis city also decided on a zero-foot buffer. Webster Groves plans to keep the 1,000-foot buffer.

The county Department of Planning will hold a public hearing June 17 on a proposal to amend Chapter 1003 of the St. Louis County Zoning Ordinance pertaining to medical marijuana facilities regulations.