Carbondale moving forward with medical marijuana regs
CARBONDALE – Even with 12 current medical marijuana retail facilities, and prospects for three more, the town of Carbondale is still not of the mind to put a cap on the number of such facilities it will allow.
“While a cap would benefit the facilities already in existence, it would be an artificial constraint on the market,” according to one of the findings of Carbondale’s specially appointed Medical Marijuana Facility Advisory Group.
The group, made up of citizens, business owners, medical marijuana dispensary owners, medical and mental health professionals, and a school board representative, presented its findings, along with several recommendations for a variety of local regulatory controls to the Carbondale Board of Trustees Tuesday night.
Recent new state legislation does allow communities to place a cap on the number and size of medical marijuana facilities.
However, one of the new state laws also requires dispensaries – now referred to under the law as medical marijuana centers – to produce at least 70 percent of their own product. That, in itself, may end up limiting the number of sales operations that can exist.
“If you own a dispensary, you have to have a grow operation somewhere,” Sherry Caloia, an attorney working with the town to craft zoning and other regulations around the industry, said at Tuesday’s meeting.
“These operations are scrambling now to meet all of the state regulations,” she said. “But I think we could see fewer dispensaries now, because of the [grow] requirement.”
Ann Toney, an attorney representing one Carbondale dispensary, the ColoMed Center, agreed.
“I truly believe, from what we’ve seen in other parts of the state, that they will thin out,” she said. “If you’re truly over-saturated, it will shake out.”
The deadline for centers to provide documentation to the state showing they are able to grow 70 percent of their product is Sept. 1. That may well serve as the deadline for some dispensaries to either continue on, or close shop.
In the meantime, the law gives communities like Carbondale the flexibility to impose local zoning and licensing controls over both medical marijuana centers and commercial grow operations.
As for distribution centers, the advisory group is recommending that facilities be a conditional use in three zones, the Historic Commercial Core, Commercial Transitional and Planned Commercial Community districts, as well as some Planned Unit Developments (PUD).
Grow operations are another issue altogether.
“In Carbondale, we have no experience with approved commercial medical marijuana grow operations,” the advisory group pointed out in its report.
Earlier this year, the town did shut down an illegal grow operation in a residential zone district. The advisory group agreed that grow operations in residential neighborhoods are inappropriate.
Dispensaries may establish grow facilities outside of the jurisdiction where their retail operation is located, even in other parts of the state.
Carbondale appears willing to allow such operations as a “conditional use” in its industrial zone district, as well as certain PUDs where agricultural nursery operations are an allowed use.
One hitch is that the new state law requires that the specific location of grow operations be kept confidential for security reasons, Caloia explained, meaning they can’t be subject to a full blown “special use” review with public noticing and full public hearings. Certain zones for such operations can be identified, however.
A “conditional use” requires an administrative review by the town, with input from the police and building departments on such things as security, fee requirements, minimum distance from schools, ventilation and odor control.
Carbondale trustees were also OK with an advisory group recommendation to set the minimum distance for medical marijuana facilities from schools and drug/alcohol rehabilitation facilities at 500 feet, instead of the 1,000 feet spelled out in state law. The state does allow local jurisdictions to set their own distance requirements, Caloia said.
The reason for the advisory group’s shorter distance recommendation is because of Carbondale’s relatively small geographic size. The 500-foot limit is also what’s required of liquor stores.
Other recommendations from the advisory group included: Allowing individual medical marijuana patients to grow up to 12 plants in their homes, and establishing a local licensing fee, revenues from which may go into youth education efforts.
The recommendations will come back before the Town Council in the form of a zoning code ordinance for formal consideration, likely next month.