Mayor Keith Gaskin broke a tie vote Tuesday to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in certain zones without Planning Commission approval. Grow houses in certain zones were also freed from commission approval on a 4-2 vote.
The council had previously decided that any medical marijuana-related business had to first come before the Planning Commission, then come to the council for final approval.
Building Official Ken Wiegel told the council that the Planning Commission voted to allow dispensaries “by right” — meaning without the need for specific approval beyond obtaining necessary local and state permits — in several zones: C1, which is neighborhood commercial; C2, community commercial; and C3, highway commercial.
“The feeling I got from the commission was that they didn’t want to hear these dispensary requests over and over,” Wiegel said.
City Attorney Jeff Turnage also chimed in.
“The commission thought drug stores are allowed in those districts by right,” Turnage said. “The idea was you don’t require a drug store to come and ask permission. The idea was to treat them the same as a drug store.”
“What they’re saying is people need to work within the guidelines instead of reassessing it each time one comes in,” Gaskin said.
Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard said he didn’t want to see dispensaries just cropping up all over.
“My thing is I don’t want people just waking up in the morning and say they’re fixing to go open up a dispensary,” Beard said.
Turnage said that wouldn’t be the case, due to the expense associated with any kind of medical marijuana business.
“First of all, you have a $15,000 non-refundable (state) one-time application fee,” Turnage said. “Then you have a $25,000 annual fee. Up front it costs you $40,000. Folks that wake up one morning and decide to do that better be wealthy.”
Beard moved to approve the commission recommendation, and was seconded by Ward 3 Councilman Rusty Greene. It deadlocked 3-3, with Ward 1 Councilwoman Ethel Taylor Stewart, Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones voting no and Green, Beard and Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacqueline DiCicco voting yes. Gaskin broke the tie in favor.
Wiegel moved on to grow houses, and a similar request by the Planning Commission that they be allowed by right in zones A1, which is general agricultural; C3, highway commercial; C3R, highway commercial restricted; I2, light industrial; and I3 heavy industrial.
Beard moved, seconded by Greene, to approve the recommendation. This time the motion passed 4-2, with Stewart and Mickens voting no.
Dispensaries, grow houses approved
That wasn’t all the medical weed-related action, though. Wiegel also asked for approval for Planning Commission recommendations to green-light requests for several medical marijuana-related businesses.
Magnolia Cannabis Services LLC, which is owned by Becky Boyd and Tee and Terre Pittman, applied for a permit to open both a dispensary and a grow house at 901 Highway 45 North, which is the old Fitzner car dealership.
Holistika, a dispensary owned by Amber and Deneisha Glenn, plans to locate at 2003 Highway 45 North, in the former Tuesday morning, and Corey Herring and Sophia Kibe plan to open a dispensary at 1920 Highway 45 North, which is in Northgate Plaza.
Those last two businesses are within 1,500 feet of one another, which is not allowed by the Mississippi Cannabis Act.
Turnage explained that it is now essentially a race to see who can get through the permitting process the fastest.
“At the local level you go ahead and approve, and then it’s a race to the state to see who gets the first application that’s properly completed with the fees,” he said. “The first one that comes in will be the first one reviewed, and if that one’s not adequate the next one will get it. Once one is approved, anything within 1,500 feet will not be approved.”
All three permits were approved on motions from Beard with seconds from Greene, and all passed 4-2, with Stewart and Mickens voting no.
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.