Where, oh where, should the dispensaries go? (Hint: Not near a school.)

Raytown and Grandview say dispensaries must be 1000 feet from a school. Kansas City says only 300. Why?

South KC Perspective

By John Sharp

John Sharp

Medical marijuana dispensaries that also will be allowed to sell drug paraphernalia to use or administer marijuana will be allowed to locate as close as 300 feet from child daycare centers, churches and elementary and secondary schools under an ordinance approved July 11 by the KCMO City Council.

The sale and use of medical marijuana, and the cultivation of marijuana and manufacturing of marijuana-infused products for use other than by smoking, both for medicinal use, were legalized under state law by a Missouri constitutional amendment approved by state voters in November 2018 by nearly a two to one margin.

The amendment authorized the sale of medical marijuana by licensed dispensaries to persons who obtain a doctor’s certification that they suffer from chronic specified medical conditions, conditions that cause severe persistent pain or muscle spasms or who are terminally ill or to their primary caregivers.  Patients and their caregivers also must obtain an identification card issued by the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

It further provided, that unless allowed by local government, no medical marijuana facility of any type could be located within 1,000 feet of any then-existing elementary or secondary school, child daycare center or church.

I suspect many voters felt like I did and couldn’t imagine any local government thinking it would be a good idea to allow medical marijuana sales near schools, particularly given the national epidemic plaguing our country of the resale of opioid prescription drugs.  Boy were we wrong!

In densely populated St. Louis City, aldermen in June approved allowing all types of medical marijuana facilities to locate in areas with the appropriate zoning without any buffer zone between the facilities and child daycares, churches and elementary and secondary schools.

And in Kansas City, only a 300-foot buffer is required between marijuana dispensaries and child daycares, churches and schools.  Because the buffer zone will be measured from the wall or door of a marijuana facility instead of from its property line, in some cases 300 feet will be just across the street.

A 750-foot buffer is required between schools and marijuana cultivation facilities, marijuana-infused products manufacturing facilities and marijuana testing facilities. 

Kansas City’s ordinance regulating where medical marijuana facilities can be located as introduced by Councilman Jermaine Reed originally provided a 750-foot buffer between all medical marijuana facilities and child daycares, churches and schools.  It was recommended for passage by the full council on June 27 on a three to one vote of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee with only Councilman Quinton Lucas voting no.

But that afternoon when it was considered by the full Council, Lucas offered an amendment to reduce the 750 feet to only 300.  The vote on his amendment was six to four, but it failed since seven votes (a majority of the 12 Council members and the mayor) are needed for passage.

The ordinance was then re-referred to the committee which on July 11 by a four to zero vote approved a compromise to reduce the buffer zone to 300 feet from churches and daycare centers and to keep it at 750 feet from schools.  Councilman Lucas had left before the committee vote for an out of town family obligation but had spoken in favor of the concept of the compromise which I thought was reasonable although I preferred and testified in favor of a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools.  With no member of the committee opposing the compromise, I was confidant it would be approved by the full Council that afternoon. Wrong again.

Councilman Lee Barnes offered an amendment to allow marijuana dispensaries to be as close as 300 feet from schools, while keeping the 750-foot buffer zone for other types of marijuana facilities.  It passed ten to two with no debate, and only Councilmen Kevin McManus and Scott Taylor voting no. The amended ordinance than passed with the same vote. Councilman Lucas was absent for both votes.

After that vote, school officials including the superintendents of both the Hickman Mills and Kansas City school districts and school board members from both the Center and Hickman Mills districts and I contacted Council members and asked them to vote to reconsider their approval of the amended ordinance at the July 18 Council session and to amend it to include a longer buffer zone around schools for marijuana dispensaries.  (Only those voting on the prevailing side could make a motion to reconsider passage of the ordinance.)

While several Council members said they would support a motion to reconsider the ordinance’s passage, none were willing to move for reconsideration without getting a green light to do so by Councilman and Mayor-Elect Lucas which he would not give despite voicing support for compromise distance requirements in committee on July 11.

Consequently, any effort to expand the buffer zone around schools to prevent nearby marijuana dispensaries will require passage of a new ordinance by the Council after its six new members are sworn in on August 1.  Any dispensaries approved by the state before passage of such an ordinance could continue to operate, but additional dispensaries would be prohibited.

Much of the impetus for shrinking buffer zones around protected institutions appeared to be caused by a fear that larger buffer zones, especially around the numerous churches in the city, would severely limit where marijuana dispensaries could be located, particularly in the central city.

However, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services has announced it will only initially approve the minimum number of dispensaries required by the constitutional amendment – 24 per district for each of the state’s eight Congressional Districts.

The 5th District which includes KCMO also includes three rural counties and numerous other cities including Blue Springs, Gladstone, Grain Valley, Grandview, Independence, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City, Oak Grove, Raytown and Sugar Creek.  Even if most of these entities only get one dispensary each, and Blue Springs, Independence and Lee’s Summit only get two each, that only leaves eight dispensaries for all of KCMO.

Surely there are plenty of locations in all parts of the city to locate eight or so dispensaries without having them right across the street from schools which would tempt older students to try to purchase high grade marijuana products from customers.

If shorter buffer zones are desired to open up more areas for marijuana facilities without facilitating the resale of marijuana products to youth, Grandview’s approach makes much more sense than KCMO’s since it requires a 1,000-foot buffer zone between dispensaries and child daycares, churches and schools, but does not require a buffer zone for cultivation, manufacturing or testing facilities.

Raytown requires a 1,000-foot buffer zone between all types of medical marijuana facilities and child daycares, churches and schools.

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