Springfield races to comply with Missouri's new recreational marijuana amendment
City Council is racing to meet an early February deadline to bring Springfield into compliance with Missouri's recently passed recreational marijuana constitutional amendment. But one councilman is urging the city slow down the process to account for concerns surrounding increased crime.
Recreational marijuana was approved by 53 percent of Missouri voters in November and dispensaries can begin selling it to any resident over 21 as early as Feb. 6. But each municipality must change their ordinances to comply with the newly approved state constitutional amendment before that date.
The city's proposal for such a bill would make "minimal changes" to city ordinance, according to an included staff report. Comprehensive marijuana facilities would be allowed "in the same districts with similar standards" as currently existing medical marijuana facilities.
The ordinance would also allow the new category of a microbusiness marijuana dispensary, which is a separate designation allowing small business entrepreneurs into the trade.
Councilman Craig Hosmer took issue with how close some of these facilities could be located near children.
Amendment 3 requires a 1,000-foot separation between marijuana businesses and any elementary or secondary school, child daycare center, or church unless local governments allow them to be closer.
Springfield's bill would include the full 1,000-foot separation between marijuana dispensaries and schools. However, it would allow a reduced separation of 200 feet from daycare centers and churches.
According to the bill, this provision allows "medical access to patients without being overly burdensome."
Citing a potential increase in criminal conduct around these facilities, Hosmer said the city should institute the full 1,000-foot separation between any daycare centers and marijuana facilities.
"Just because they're now recreational doesn't mean we should — I think we should go back to the maximum distances between daycares if these are areas where there is more criminal conduct ...," Hosmer said. "These are not medical facilities. These are recreational facilities. And I think we're going to have more criminal conduct that happens in the city of Springfield because of this."
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Statements linking marijuana dispensaries with crime spark debate
Hosmer also called for Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams to give council a report on how medical marijuana facilities have affected Springfield crime in recent years.
Commenting on the bill, attorney Chip Sheppard, who specializes in law related to the marijuana industry, claimed crime actually goes down with the introduction of recreational marijuana.
"I'm sure the Chief's opinion will be crime probably goes up, but I would challenge the chief to provide you with some statistics that would back that up. Regardless of those statistics, is it gonna matter where it is? Two hundred feet, 500 feet, 1,000 feet — whether crime goes up or down, you're still significant distance away from a daycare or a church," Sheppard said.
The 1,000-foot requirement for daycares and churches would almost entirely prevent any facility from operation, according to Sheppard.
"When you go to 1,000 feet for daycares and churches, you block out the city, which means you've just made it unduly burdensome. I'm not sure any of those locations right there would survive if you went to 1,000 feet," he said.
Hosmer also raised a concern that the facilities could draw cartels to Springfield.
Sheppard responded that cartels "are already here."
"What dispensaries do is they draw people away from cartel people that are pushing all those other drugs, into the dispensary, which only has marijuana that has been tested," he said.
Attempt to delay vote on recreational marijuana compliance
To slow down the process and possibly make changes, Hosmer proposed a motion to send the measure to council's Finance and Administration Committee for further research. Earlier in the same meeting, a bill proposed by Hosmer was sent to committee in a delaying tactic.
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Staff cautioned that delaying the vote further could put the city at odds with the Missouri Constitution, which implements recreational marijuana as early as next month.
Councilman Matt Simpson also said the consideration of a recreational marijuana amendment had been contemplated when City Council first introduced medical marijuana regulations in 2019. Those regulations implemented similar separation requirements.
"We spent several months originally on this with the idea that if there was a future recreational ballot initiative, that these would likely sell that, too, and put into place pretty strict requirements as a result. We have the Feb. 6 deadline in front of us that's in the Missouri Constitution. At least personally, I think it's important that we follow the Missouri Constitution," Simpson said.
Hosmer's motion failed and the bill will have a final vote at a special Jan. 31 council meeting, which will allow the city to meet the Feb. 6 deadline.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Springfield races to comply with recreational marijuana law by Feb. 6