Voters approved medical marijuana in Missouri last year, and it's time for city and state officials to start thinking about it.
Jefferson City attorney Nathan M. Nickolaus educated Fulton City Council persons about their legal rights and responsibilities this week — and said that while Fulton is slightly behind the ball in preparations, Columbia government officials haven't even started.
"When Amendment 2 passed, a lot changed," Nickolaus said. "Before, it was just illegal."
Amendment 2 passed in the Nov. 6 election, permitting state-licensed physicians to recommend marijuana for medical purposes to patients with serious illnesses and medical conditions (marijuana paraphernalia is still illegal). According to the state Department of Health and Senior Services, businesses can start applying for licenses to dispense, cultivate and transport on Aug. 3.
"The state will decide who gets licensed," Nickolaus added. "It costs $10,000 to put your name in for just the licensing consideration — they have 550 applications already."
More money is due if a related business is licensed.
"This is a great way to make money," he said.
Medical marijuana may be available for purchase in January. People can find more details about the procedure for getting a medical marijuana card at the DHSS website: health.mo.gov/safety/medical-marijuana/faqs.php.
Issues to consider
Love it or hate it, the odds that Fulton will have at least one medical marijuana dispensary are 100 percent, according to Nickolaus.
"I would say it's very likely Fulton will have a dispensary," he said. "The state's goal is to have every patient within 25 miles of a dispensary."
As of April, 33 states and Washington, D.C., legalized medical marijuana. Ten states and D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. The plant (cannabis) and derivatives are still illegal by federal law (the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937).
Previously, it was regulated by states as a drug. Cannabis was officially outlawed for any use (medical included) with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Medical marijuana can be smoked, inhaled through a vaporizer, eaten, applied to the skin in a lotion, spray, oil or cream, or put under the tongue in liquid form. It can also come in the form of a patch.
Smoking is not allowed in public places; but how would medical marijuana cremes, patches and other delivery methods be regulated? Nickolaus claimed state lawmakers are not really thinking this issue through.
Medical marijuana is made from the marijuana plant and is not the same thing as CBD, which is made from hemp and is legal in Missouri. Medical marijuana will not be available at pharmacies or doctors' offices, but only through dispensaries. Some may be permitted to grow it at home for personal use.
Nickolaus said cities cannot ban medical marijuana businesses, so officials need to consider how these business will affect their communities.
"Zoning is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "You can control the time of operation. Some cities close them at 6 p.m., and some would have them open 24 hours a day if they could."
City officials can look at dispensaries like they look at bars and liquor stores and consider regulating dispensaries the same way.
"Transactions are cash only, so there is a large amount of cash and a large amount of marijuana. That could have an impact (on crime)."
Some dispensaries look like razor-wire-surrounded jails. Some look like other very nice businesses, Nickolaus added.
Marijuana growing most often takes place indoors in controlled environments. Cultivation facilities draw a huge amount of electricity and water, and they will likely be located close to those utilities in places such as manufacturing districts. Some harsh chemicals are used in processing, and city officials might want to think about distance from schools, churches and child care facilities, Nickolaus added.
"You can't regulate the number (of dispensaries) in the city; you can regulate distances between," he said.
City officials also want to consider the strong odor of marijuana — the plant itself, not just when being smoked. A marijuana growing facility might generate a strong odor, similar to a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation).
Governments can make money on sales taxes plus 4-percent, as the approved Amendment 2 was written.
And governments may also want to think about employee policies.
"Police officers and firefighters will not be allowed to use medical marijuana," Nickolaus said.
That also goes for entities that receive federal government funds and businesses classified as "drug-free workplaces."
"You have to do something about your zoning by Jan. 1 or they have a constitutional right to locate (anywhere) in your city," he said.
City Administrator Bill Johnson said Fulton government is "not behind the curve now, but close."
"I've had two different business groups come in and discuss it," Johnson added. "Folks, it's coming, and something is going to be approved."
A City Council retreat may be scheduled to discuss this issue more in depth.
"I'm hoping we can get this done by the end of July," said Johnson, adding Nickolaus has been retained for legal advice through this process.