Sunset Hills sets up marijuana laws in advance of state’s approval of dispensaries

By Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com

As the state prepares to issue licenses for medical marijuana facilities through the end of the year, Sunset Hills is updating its zoning ordinance in case one wants to set up shop in the city.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously last week to recommend approval of text adding medical marijuana land uses to the Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen, including a 500-foot buffer between dispensaries and schools, daycares and churches.

Currently, the city’s zoning code does not define or list marijuana-related uses in any of the zoning districts, meaning a dispensary could potentially be considered a pharmacy, which is a permitted use in the C-1 Commercial District. Under the proposed text amendment, dispensaries would still be permitted in the C-1 district with a conditional-use permit, or CUP.

The CUP process would give both the planning panel and the board the “opportunity to closely review potential facilities and required conditions, in addition to conditions and requirements in Missouri Amendment 2 and this proposed text amendment,” according to the staff report.

Amendment 2, passed by nearly 66 percent of statewide voters in November 2018, legalizes medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana cultivation facilities, testing facilities and infused-product manufacturing facilities would be permitted in the PD-LI Planned Development-Light Industrial District with the approval of a development plan.

The text amendment also establishes a 500-foot buffer between dispensaries and churches, daycares and schools, and a 1,000-foot buffer between all other medical marijuana facilities and churches, daycares and schools. Additionally, the amendment states that facilities would not be allowed within 1,500 feet of each other.

No more than three of each marijuana-related facility would be permitted in the city.

Under Amendment 2, buffers cannot exceed 1,000 feet, although cities do have jurisdiction to lower the buffer. Because Amendment 2 is a constitutional amendment, municipalities also cannot make it “unduly burdensome” or prohibit any kind of medical marijuana facility from seeking to locate inside city limits.

“If we leave it at 1,000 feet, it eliminates most of our commercial corridors. If you’re too restrictive then there’s nowhere for these facilities to locate, and we have to allow them to come here,” Assistant City Planner Lynn Sprick told the commission on the decision to set the buffer at 500 feet.

“The language of this ordinance is nothing over the top. It’s the same ordinance that’s been adopted by, I believe, at least five of our clients at this point,” City Attorney Robert E. Jones said of his law firm Curtis Heinz Garrett & O’Keefe, which represents numerous cities in St. Louis County. “The only difference is how the uses are treated in the particular zoning classifications.”

City Administrator Eric Sterman told the commission that it was in the best interest of the city to have an ordinance in place establishing medical marijuana land uses before the end of the year, since the state has to issue licenses to prospective marijuana business owners before Dec. 31. 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.

Five applicants wanted to locate in Sunset Hills, all in the Watson and Lindbergh commercial corridors. But none can apply with the city until they get licensed with the state, if the state approves their application.

Sunset Hills is late to the game in setting its marijuana laws, as Crestwood already set its buffer at 500 feet and the county at 1,000 feet for unincorporated St. Louis County. Sterman said the city wanted to wait and just add the laws into the city’s new zoning code, but that has taken longer to get through the city approval process than expected.

“In the meantime, these licenses are going to be granted… some time in the relative near future,” said Sterman. “It’s arguably today a permitted use in C-1 so if we just did nothing, there’s a potential that a business like this could open up. The city would have no say over any of the operations of the business. And while that may be limited by state law, we thought the board would want some say in the operation in case there was anything they felt uncomfortable with.”

Sprick pointed out that the new zoning code already has medical marijuana facilities outlined in the use table, and definitions would be updated with the buffer passed by aldermen.

Former Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy was the only member of the public present at the meeting.

“As far as the dispensaries go, my suggestion is… since this has to be prescribed by a doctor, that the dispensary requires a Missouri-licensed pharmacist must be on site at all times to fill and dispense all marijuana prescriptions,” said Hardy. “It’s the same thing for a pharmacy that does that all the time.”

Jones said that because marijuana is still illegal federally, doctors cannot write actual prescriptions for medical marijuana, only a certification for a patient to use it. Dispensary employees will have to be trained and certified by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, which is overseeing the medical marijuana industry per Amendment 2.

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen will get its first look at the law Tuesday, Nov. 12 — after The Call went to press. The board can approve the amendment as is, or suggest higher or lower buffers up to 1,000 feet.