Proposed zoning restrictions for medical cannabis growers and processors drew mixed responses from those who attended a roundtable discussion convened Tuesday by Muskogee City Council.
Changes being considered would remove from consideration four commercially zoned districts for which permits for those types of businesses were previously approved. Businesses licensed to grow or process medical cannabis would be able to operate only in areas zoned for agricultural, light industrial and heavy industrial uses.
Owners of existing businesses who have active licenses and license holders whose applications for municipal permits remain pending would be exempt from the amended ordinance if councilors adopt it. Existing businesses that already own or lease property in other commercially zoned districts would be allowed to continue operating or expand pursuant to provisions allowing nonconforming use.
Business owners and advocates of the medical cannabis industry cautioned against any new restrictions. They said medical cannabis already is highly regulated by the state, and adding more restrictions at the local level would harm owners of the smaller medical cannabis businesses.
Those who favored the proposed siting restrictions cited nuisance odors from growing and processing facilities near neighborhoods, parks and in downtown Muskogee. Some expressed concerns about high-intensity lighting used for growing operations and the combustibility of some cannabis processing facilities.
Rob Raasch, a political consultant, said revisions that expand the grandfather clause make the proposed amendments more palatable. But he still considers the proposed restrictions problematic.
“Marijuana creates jobs — this is the second largest industry in the state of Oklahoma right now,” Raasch said, citing annual revenue projections of $2 billion for a cash-only industry he suspects might be under-reported by half. “These kinds of ordinances stop that (revenue) — they hurt economic development in our town.”
Jed Green, director of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, suggested there may be ordinances already in place to deal with nuisance odors that have been the subject of ongoing complaints. He also said new state laws scheduled to take effect Nov. 1 — one of which will delineate cannabis processing licenses based on the combustibility of the processes used — may address some of the issues the zoning restrictions are intended to tackle.
“In our world, with our organization, we believe in municipal settings and in rural settings folks should be good neighbors,” Green said. “If the smell or the air quality coming out of some of these facilities is a problem then it wouldn’t be unrealistic to have an additional ordinance that simply requires them to make an additional investment as a business to abate that nuisance … with filters or internal air systems.”
Gerald Miller, a local lawyer, said he believes it is a bad idea to allow cannabis growers to set up shop within the central business district. He said cannabis growing and processing could prove problematic for the development of downtown Muskogee.
“We shouldn’t encourage anymore processing facilities downtown — if they want to put them somewhere else that’s fine,” Miller said. “Downtown should be commercial business district, it shouldn’t be a commercial production marijuana processing facility district. I think the ordinance is not strong enough.”
Ward II Councilor Alex Reynolds expressed concern about imposing new restrictions on the medical cannabis industry. He said the industry has bolstered the local real estate market and opened the door to new economic opportunities that previously were nonexistent.
“I am concerned that what we are considering doing is completely saying that we have enough, there’s enough of these here, let’s stop doing them or zone them out,” Reynolds said. “That’s extremely dangerous. The people who I talk to … quite a few of them are struggling right now.”
Reynolds said there have been some positive developments recently, and he believes any attempt to clamp down on a new industry like medical cannabis could reverse that trend.
City councilors will act on the proposed amendments at a later date.