Lead to finalize medical marijuana ordinance June 21

Courtesy photo

LEAD — No medical marijuana licenses will be issued and no dispensary will be allowed to legally operate in the city of Lead until as late as Oct. 29 if the city finalizes a temporary ordinance June 21.

In a joint meeting between the Lead City Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission, the city discussed a temporary ordinance that will put all medical cannabis dispensary licenses on hold until the S.D. Department of Health issues guidelines. According to SDCL 34-20G, local governments may govern the time, place, and manner of a medical cannabis dispensary, as well as issue licenses, zoning permits, or registrations for those businesses to operate.

But while laws permitting medical cannabis in the state are scheduled to go into effect July 1, the state has until Oct. 29 to issue standards and guidance to municipalities for governing dispensaries. Lead’s temporary ordinance gives the city and the state time to organize for responsible development of medical cannabis within city limits.

“During the time between July 1, 2021, and potentially as late as Oct. 29, 2021, local units of government will not yet know standards for medical cannabis and will not be able to adequately assess the local zoning and licensing requirements necessary to approve local permits and to better ensure applicants have a more predictable permitting process to avoid stranded investments,” the ordinance states.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Marlo Heupel said the state is “behind the ball” in regulating medical cannabis, and the ordinance protects the city of Lead from legal ramifications of delaying licenses pending state guidance.

“If we don’t have something like this in place, we could be in trouble,” he said.

The ordinance also gives the city more time to study how medical cannabis dispensaries will affect Lead’s Comprehensive Planning and Zoning ordinances.

The joint meeting allowed for discussion among city leaders, as well as a public hearing about the matter. Mayor Ron Everett opened the meeting by reminding residents that the majority of voters in the state legalized medical marijuana last November, and to prohibit dispensary businesses is illegal. He also said there has been discussion that the business world and economics will dictate the number of dispensary licenses that will be available in town.

“As far as business is concerned, if anybody wants to do business in South Dakota you have to get licensed by the state,” Everett said. “We can’t say we’re not accepting that business because of who it is. If they’re licensed in South Dakota and they’re following the rules, they’re a business.”

Some of the major issues that the city needs to address is where dispensaries will be located, how licenses will be issued, and what kinds of fees will be attached to those licenses.

As far as zoning goes, Heupel he would like to see medical cannabis dispensaries limited to Lead’s commercial district, with no possibility for conditional use permits. He also said the city needs to be careful to not allow dispensaries near school zones, park zones, or churches.

“I wouldn’t want a commercial dispensary as my next-door neighbor,” he said.

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Gordon Phillips, who is the pastor of Golden Hills Baptists Church in Lead, said he doesn’t want a dispensary anywhere near his church or its nearby parsonage, both of which are located in residentially zoned areas. When the time came for Planning and Zoning Commissioners to make a motion for whether to approve the temporary hold ordinance, Phillips told commissioners that his conscience kept him from making a motion, and when the question was called he was the sole commissioner who did not cast a vote. During discussion, Phillips said the initiated measure was approved by uneducated voters.

“I know our hands are tied,” he said. “The problem with initiated measures as opposed to a represented republic is people make uneducated choices. A lot of people think they know about marijuana. They think it’s harmless and they’re completely uneducated.”

Phillips cited a book, “Tell Your Children,” by New York Times reporter Alex Bernstein as his source for information.

“He has delved into studies and there is an undeniable link between marijuana smoking and increase in mental illness that is responsible for a lot of violence that we’ve seen in our communities,” he said. “Those of you who are elected officials would be wise to become fully educated. The only thing in marijuana that anybody argues is CBD, and you can get CBD without the THC. There is going to be collateral damage. We need to take it seriously and when it comes to regulations that can and cannot be done in our city, we need to do it with full knowledge of what it’s about.”

Following the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval for the ordinance, the Lead City Commission cast a unanimous vote, with Commissioner Colin Greenfield absent, to approve the ordinance. The final vote to approve the ordinance will be held June 21. If the ordinance is finalized, it will go into effect immediately, which will halt any medical cannabis sales within the city of Lead.

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