District III meeting talks medical marijuana guidance, American Rescue Plan with area governments

·4 min read

Aug. 26—The biannual District III meeting returned Wednesday afternoon to Mitchell to discuss hot-button issues with area governments — specifically the implementation of successful marijuana ordinances.

District III is an economic development organization comprised of township, municipal, county and tribal governments. It provides, in part, assistance in the understanding and application of state and federal law, while also assisting small governments in accessing state and federal funding for their local projects.

The hottest topic on Monday's agenda saw District III leaders discussing rules and regulations surrounding medical marijuana, answering questions and providing guidance to proper implementation of the recently passed Initiated Measure 26.

Brian McGinnis, District III's community development specialist, kicked discussion off by reminding local governments of their obligation to allow marijuana cultivators and retailers to operate in their jurisdictions.

"You must allow one in your jurisdiction, that's going to be a big thing," McGinnis said. "Local governments have a lot of latitude on what they're allowed to do on other limitations."

McGinnis said that the main stipulation in South Dakota's law is that marijuana operations must be located at least 1,000 feet away from a school. However, for local governments that want to have tighter restrictions on operations, McGinnis suggested using zoning laws to add distance requirements to places such as preschools, churches, public parks and other areas children often spend their time.

One District III member said he lives in a town so small that a 1,000-foot restriction from schools would ultimately outlaw marijuana operations in his jurisdiction. The Office of the Attorney General elected not to comment on this scenario to the Mitchell Republic.

McGinnis also discussed licensing options to restrict or open up marijuana operations in jurisdictions. He said that local governments can choose to require local licenses and implement other measures in addition to state requirements.

State laws and regulations surrounding medical marijuana are not expected to be completed until some time in October, McGinnis said. Though District III is available to answer questions from local governments, McGinnis made clear that legal counsel is always the best route to resolve issues.

The meeting also covered local governments' ability to access federal funds included in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

District III executive director Greg Henderson said that since ARPA's approval, the United States Economic Development Administration has an extra $3 billion that it plans to distribute across the country through six different programs.

Three categories that best apply to District III's coverage area, Henderson said, include funding for travel, tourism and recreation, funding for building up Indigenous communities and specifically $500 million in the Economic Adjustment Assistance — the EDA's broadest category.

However, Henderson said the rules for how the money can be spent are rather narrow, and local governments must submit a proposal in order to receive any of the money.

"ARPA is something we have time to deal with," Henderson said.

Funds received from ARPA and other associated loan programs don't need to be allocated for three-and-a-half years, and don't need to be spent until five years from now.

"But, not registering equals no funds," Henderson said.

Local governments should start deciding what types of loans they may want to apply for, Henderson said, and need to begin coming up with plans for how to spend any money they may receive.

Mike Perkovich, a program administrator for the Environmental Funding Program said local governments are most likely to receive money for projects that promote public health, address negative economic development impacts, improve water and sewer infrastructure improvements and aim to provide increased broadband access.

Perkovich said that governments should be careful when applying for loans, as ARPA funds will only apply to costs incurred since March 3, 2021 — a general date for when the coronavirus began to impact the Midwest. He also noted that governments need to make a distinction between applications for ARPA funds and other loan programs, as conditions for eligibility and award amounts vary.

Other business addressed at the meeting advised smaller governments to prepare for small structure surveys, discussions on application for roadway infrastructure loans and a ballot approval for the District III board elections.

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