By Erin Achenbach
Sunset Hills has a 500-foot buffer for medical marijuana facilities after the Board of Aldermen voted 5-3 Dec. 10 to establish an ordinance regulating medical marijuana facilities in the city.
Ward 1 Alderman Ann McMunn, Ward 2 Alderman Steve Bersche, Ward 3 Alderman Kurt Krueger and Ward 4 Aldermen Mark Colombo and Thompson Price voted in favor of the ordinance, while Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler, Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong and Ward 3 Alderman Nathan Lipe voted against.
The ordinance permits medical marijuana dispensaries in the C-1 Commercial District with a conditional-use permit, or CUP, and establishes a 500-foot buffer between dispensaries and schools, daycares and churches.
Medical marijuana cultivation facilities, testing facilities and infused-product manufacturing facilities would be permitted in the PD-LI Planned Development-Light Industrial District with zoning approval. A 1,000-foot buffer would be required between schools, churches and daycares and cultivation, testing and infused-product manufacturing facilities.
The ordinance limits the number of each type of medical marijuana facility to three and also establishes a 1,500-foot buffer between facilities.
The ordinance was recommended unanimously by the Planning and Zoning Commission at its meeting in November.
Missouri voters legalized medical marijuana in the state with Amendment 2, which was passed by nearly 66 percent of statewide voters in November 2018. Under the amendment, buffers between facilities and schools, churches and daycares cannot exceed 1,000 feet. Cities have the jurisdiction to lower the buffer, however. Because Amendment 2 is a constitutional amendment, municipalities cannot make it “unduly burdensome” or prohibit any kind of medical marijuana facility from seeking to locate inside city limits.
The state received over 2,163 applications and brought in over $13 million in application fees during the Aug. 3 to Aug. 19 application window. Of those, 330 were applications to operate in St. Louis County, with 36 applications in South County alone.
Of those 36 applications, five applicants wanted to locate in Sunset Hills, all in the Watson and Lindbergh commercial corridors and all dispensaries. But none can apply with the city until they get licensed with the state, if the state approves their application.
During public comment at the meeting, former Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy told the board that he had visited the five proposed locations and found that none of the current businesses in those locations had applied for a medical marijuana dispensary license.
“So I got out and I drove around to try to find these addresses and I found four… And one I’m not real sure of because there’s no building there as yet,” said Hardy, who spoke to the owner of Treppler Automotive and the manager of the Holiday Inn on Watson. The addresses for each respective business were listed on applications for medical marijuana facilities. “Is it illegal for an applicant to make an application with the state with a particular address on it and then actually someplace else… That seems really, really strange and really illegal.”
City Attorney Robert E. Jones, whose law firm Curtis Heinz Garrett & O’Keefe has drafted medical marijuana ordinances for various municipalities, told the aldermen that the law requires only that an address be provided with medical marijuana facility applications to the state and that the actual address can be amended if a license is approved.
“If they submit their application with a particular address, that’s the one that’s processed,” said Jones. “If they can’t sign a lease or acquire the property, then they would have to go back to (state) health and senior services” and be approved with the new address.
Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong, whose ward covers parts of the Watson-Lindbergh corridor, said he would like to amend the ordinance and raise the dispensary buffer to 1,000 feet, but Ward 4 Alderman Mark Colombo, who had made the original motion to adopt the ordinance, refused to withdraw his motion to allow the ordinance to be amended.
“It’s also not going in your ward,” Wong said after Colombo’s refusal. “My point is the state law allows you to make a thousand-foot requirement… We’re only going to have three dispensaries. Three dispensaries only. Realistically, we’re easily going to be able to fill that. Even if we were to go to the maximum state requirement of 1,000 feet, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to say hey, we need a thousand feet between schools, churches and daycares. We’re easily going to fill three. It’s just a matter of how close are we going to let them be between schools, churches and daycares.”
Jones did not share Wong’s assessment, pointing out that the state was only going to issue licenses for 24 dispensaries in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. Sunset Hills is in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District, which also includes Chesterfield, Town and Country and portions of Jefferson County and St. Charles County.