After Missouri voters approved an amendment to allow medical marijuana in the state, Branson’s attorney said the city thus far has two pre-filed applications for dispensaries in the area.

City Attorney Chris Lebeck led the discussion on the topic during a Branson Board of Aldermen Study Session Thursday. Lebeck  said the purpose of Thursday’s discussion was to inform the board about the amendment and proposed changes the board can make to city ordinances.

The board of aldermen does not conduct a vote during study sessions.

During the November election in 2018, Missouri voters approved Amendment 2, which legalizes a supply and distribution chain of the schedule I controlled substance marijuana for certain purposes. According to a summary from the city’s legal department, the amendment allows for “qualified patients” and “primary caregivers” to apply for identification cards that would allow for the consumption and cultivation of marijuana.

Lebeck said the board cannot prevent facilities from opening in Branson, but can set some regulations in local ordinances. At the state level, Lebeck said the Department of Health and Senior Services is the regulatory body that will have oversight on the issue.

Most notably, Lebeck said the city isn’t allowed to prohibit facilities through “unduly burdensome regulations,” but can enact ordinances to time, place and manor of operation, and establish up to a 1,000 foot buffer from churches, day care centers and schools.

“We can’t go beyond 1,000 feet, but we can shrink it,” Lebeck said. “... With this, it’s kind of a balancing act. It’s a new opportunity for business for municipalities, but at the same time, we don’t want to frustrate our churches, daycares and our schools.”

When showing aldermen what proposed ordinances could look like, Lebeck described the four types of facilities that could apply; cultivation, infusion, testing and dispensary facilities.

Of those four, Lebeck said it would be beneficial to draft ordinances for each, but the city would most likely only see requests for dispensaries. As of June 17, Lebeck said DHSS has informed the city of two applications for dispensaries in Branson, but would not provide names or potential locations.

“That’s just by zip code, we don’t know where yet,” Lebeck said.

While Lebeck said DHSS will handle regulatory matters at the state level, the city will be able to treat facilities like any other business that requires a business license.

“If they’re not complying with our zoning, our hours of operation controls and our ventilation controls, we have the authority for inspectors to issue citations to regulate it in that capacity,” he said.

“They’re going to have a business license to operate within the city just like any other business. If I’m a dispensary I’m no different than someplace like Dick’s 5 & 10, that’s selling souvenirs. They’re going to have to have a business license to do business in the city of Branson,” Lebeck said. “We have opportunities there in our business licensing ... to make sure they fulfill  obligations we set upon them.”

Lebeck said those who can access medical marijuana in Missouri are known as qualified patients, who will be required to obtain an identification card requiring physician approval.

The other type of individual listed in the article is a primary caregiver, who is listed as someone 21 years of age or older and is responsible for managing the well being of a qualified patient.

Additionally, Lebeck said qualified patients can apply for a cultivation card. Lebeck said the card would allow a qualified patient or their primary caregiver to cultivate up to “six flowering marijuana plants for the exclusive use of that patient.

Lebeck said qualified patients can cultivate up to a 90-day supply, which must remain on property in an enclosed facility equipped with security devices.

When asked about what limitations the city can place on the use of medical marijuana within the city, Lebeck said an article in the amendment prohibits smoking in public places and driving under the influence. Qualified patients are also required to keep their card on their person.

“It’s OK to possess it because we have to allow it if you have that qualifying patient card, but you can’t do it without that card on your person,” Lebeck said. “It’s no different than driving a car without an insurance card.” 

When asked about what taxes the city could collect on medical marijuana, Lebeck said Branson could charge its local retail sales tax, but can’t charge anything additional.

“We can’t say ‘You know what, this is going to be an additional 20% tax on this,’” Lebeck said. “So, if we’re looking at this as an additional, heightened revenue source for the city, I’m sorry; that’s not going to happen. It’s going to be treated like any other business for any other goods or service.”

Lebeck said the timeline provided by the DHSS puts approval of Aug. 3 applications at Dec. 31.

“Over the next six months, it’s going to start ramping up to the point where come Jan. 1, people are probably going to start being in possession of this, we’re going to see facilities, starting here in the state of Missouri,” Lebeck said. “We’re trying to get out in front of this as much as possible,”

According to Lebeck, zoning and supplemental use standards changes are set to go before the city’s planning commission on Aug. 6, before returning to the board of aldermen for a first reading on Aug. 13. Other ordinance changes are set to appear before the board for a first reading on July 9, according to Lebeck.

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