Councilors consider specific zoning for medical cannabis

·2 min read

Nov. 27—City councilors appear ready to abandon earlier efforts to amend an ordinance that governs the permitting of medical cannabis companies.

The move was intended to restrict where commercial cannabis growers and processors could set up shop within Muskogee's municipal boundaries. Amendments that had been proposed would have restricted new cannabis growers and processors to areas zoned for agricultural, light industrial and heavy industrial uses.

During a recent retreat, councilors indicated a willingness to explore another option that would consider new applicants on a case-by-case basis. Assistant City Attorney Matthew Beese said the specific use zoning is a method other municipalities have used and found to be successful.

If adopted, Beese said businesses with the specific-use classification would be required to submit plans that include information about the company, the proposed location, use of the land, and its impact on adjacent property owners and the community. He said planning commissioners would conduct a public hearing before determining whether a specific use permit should be granted, and councilors would have a chance to weigh in on their recommendation.

"The biggest thing to know — and the nicest part about this — is this has been tested in court and it wasn't a Muskogee case," Beese said. "As long as what the city does is not arbitrarily capricious, the courts will uphold those decisions if there is a rational basis for what we're putting together."

Beese said all existing medical cannabis businesses with permits would be grandfathered in to the new permitting scheme if it were to be adopted.

Ward IV Councilor Traci McGee expressed skepticism about bias. She said the act of putting medical cannabis companies into a special category is where the slippery slope of different treatment begins.

"Now that we know marijuana is going to be on this list, here we go with this committee," McGee said. "If this committee is uneducated and biased already in their opinion, there's not going to be any kind of permits for a marijuana grow."

Deputy Mayor Derrick Reed expressed concerns about decisions being made on a case-by-case basis. He likened it to "making up the rules as we go."

Beese said there is "a general framework" in place, which is based on "existing zoning codes." He said applicants for specific-use permits would first be assessed in accordance with the zoning codes for the desired location.

"If it doesn't really fit, or if there may be some objections, that's where the analysis comes in," Beese said. "So the framework is there."

Councilors are expected to take up this issue after the first of the year.

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