Across Missouri, hundreds of people have applied to grow, manufacture and sell medical marijuana. On Thursday, the Kansas City Council decided how far the businesses can be from schools, churches and day cares.
Under the constitutional amendment Missouri voters approved in November, the buffer zone for cannabis cultivation farms, testing sites and dispensaries can be no greater than 1,000 feet.
“When you close down such a large part of the city with the distances, you have almost no landlords left to lease to. And the ones that want to, want to charge $30- to $40,000 nonrefundable,” said Bianca Sullivan, an attorney looking to get into the medical cannabis business.
Some cities, like Springfield, have enacted the maximum distance. St. Louis will have no buffer zone for dispensaries.
Kansas City’s rules fall somewhere in the middle: medical marijuana dispensaries must 300 feet from schools, churches and day cares. Marijuana cultivation, testing and manufacturing sites must be 750 feet from schools and 300 feet from churches and day cares.
All facilities will be limited to certain commercial and agricultural zones. Dispensaries hoping to open in residential areas would have to get a special use permit from the city.
Creating economic opportunity in all parts of the city
St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar said his city took into account that any kind of buffer zone would force facilities out of the city and to the suburbs.
“It was going to present challenges for folks looking to enter the marketplace and also for patients, it might limit their access in their particular neighborhood,” Coatar said.
He added that the state is only awarding a limited number of licenses and city officials didn’t want to deter job creation and potential tax revenue.
Already, banks are hesitant to give business loans to cannabis entrepreneurs in places where it’s recreationally and/or medically legal because marijuana remains prohibited by the federal government.
Jamie Kacz is the executive director for NORML KC, which helped craft the constitutional amendment. She said large buffer zones, particularly around churches and day cares, would have blocked out huge parts of the city, especially in the eastern part of Kansas City.
“It’s all about patient access and not being able to shut out a certain section of the city,” Kacz said.
Monrovio Perez said buffer zones could be a major burden for patients who are not able-bodied, but he said 300 feet was reasonable. He is blind and uses public transportation to get around.
“I advocate for myself as a patient, I just want the ability to be able to get medicine more accessible than most people do for their alcohol,” Perez said.
Kansas City’s liquor stores need to be only 300 feet from churches and schools.
Public safety concerns
Emily Small, who works with the drug-free community organization called Northland Coalition, urged council members to enact a larger separation. Small said she was worried about dispensaries increasing the likelihood of crime near schools.
“I believe that the safety of our children is at risk here,” Small said, adding that the council could always go back and loosen restrictions.
Former Kansas City Councilman John Sharp preferred a 1000-foot boundary around schools. He said he was worried middle or high-school kids would hang out near dispensaries to buy marijuana from licensed patients.
Medical cannabis dispensaries are secure — one must have a medical marijuana card to enter — and have strict rules prohibiting the display of marijuana leaves or the word “marijuana” on the storefront.
Missouri will begin reviewing applications for cannabis cultivation farms, testing sites and dispensaries in August.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story originally published on Thursday morning, before the city council's decision on buffer zones.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.