BELLE FOURCHE — With the countdown to legalized medical marijuana ticking down, Butte County Commission Tuesday continued tweaking new ordinances related to its use within the county.
State’s Attorney Cassie Wendt told the commission that she’d recently met with local law enforcement about the new regulation.
“We have at least shown them and prepared them for the new marijuana laws that are in statute for medical marijuana,” she said. “There were a lot of questions, and only a few answers, so we’ll see how that rollout goes.”
Wendt discussed the proposed marijuana ordinance.
“This is far more detailed,” she said, compared to the initial example ordinance she’d presented to the commission in January. “And LeEllen (McCartney, the county’s civil attorney) was able to make sure that it was more detailed and put together based on the statutory authority as we come here today.”
First, Wendt showed the commissioners a couple of proposed ordinances related to the issuance of local medical cannabis establishments. She began with a temporary ordinance on the topic.
“The shorter one (example) is what I’m going to call a stopgap ordinance,” she said. “So, our issue being that medical marijuana becomes legal July 1, but none of the (South Dakota) Department of Health (DOH) permitting requirements or any of the procedures are going to be in place at that time.”
The DOH has until November to shore up those items as it related to medical marijuana, Wendt said.
“The purpose of this ordinance is to say, ‘Yes, we know it’s legal, however, you can’t move forward in Butte County with respect to establishing dispensaries or cultivations facilities … until the state has completed their process and has all of their rules in place.’”
“So, basically we’re saying, ‘Until we know what rules we’re playing by, we can’t move forward in this county,’” Wendt said. “This temporary ordinance is to deal with that issue.”
The other ordinance Wendt proposed would regulate medical cannabis within Butte County.
“And this is what I would call our ‘use ordinance’ from the time that it becomes legal, moving forward,” she said. “I feel that it is very important … to have both of these in place prior to July 1.”
The reason, Wendt said, is that pursuant to statute, the county and other municipal governments are permitted to establish the number of and times, places, and manners of dispensary and cultivation facilities allowed within the county.
“If we do not do that, the gentleman from the DOH made it very clear that they are required to grant every application,” she said. “So, if we do nothing and they get 1,000 applications for dispensaries on July 1, (the DOH) must grant them.”
Both proposed ordinances deal only with medical marijuana.
The county regulations within the “use ordinance” include permitting a dispensary or cultivation facility to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Additionally, the facilities would not be allowed to be open on state or federal holidays or other days that the county government offices are closed.
“We don’t want people out at 2 in the morning trying to find more weed,” Wendt said. “We don’t want people who are out on Christmas Day trying to find marijuana. We want those things to be monitored.”
As for the places of operation permitted, Wendt said that one of the regulations within the proposed ordinance indicates that no medical marijuana establishment may operate within 1,000 feet of a public or private school, including in-home daycare establishments.
Within the manners of operation portion of the proposed ordinance, Wendt said that, if adopted, the ordinance would require any staff working in a medical marijuana establishment would be required to be 21 years of age, or older. Additionally, staff would be disqualified to work at an establishment if they have a “disqualifying criminal conviction,” including any felonies or violent convictions.
“As you look through here, the state is going to issue permits based on the number (of facilities) that we (the county) say that we want to allow,” Wendt said. “And, just like alcohol, when it comes back to Butte County, they will process a license within Butte County, and we will license those facilities (which meet the criteria laid out by the DOH and state law).”
Wendt suggested that the county permit only two facilities to operate within the county’s boundaries.
“Now, (each) city (within the county) gets to mandate their establishments, as well,” she said, in addition to the number that the county designates.
“… to be reasonable, we need to basically allow two, with one required to be a permitted dispensary,” McCartney added. “Because the idea here is to allow people who need medical cannabis to be able to get it, which means a dispensary to dispense it to the public.”
After applying for a permit from the state, which Wendt said she expects to cost $5,000, any medical marijuana facility would be mandated to pay an application fee to operate within Butte County.
After inquiring with neighboring counties to poll a regional rate for those fees, Wendt plugged in a $25,000 rate in the proposed ordinance but asked for commissioners’ input.
Currently, the county charges $900 for alcohol licenses within its borders, according to McCartney, who added that that cost should be subject to increase in the near future. Meade County, for example, currently charges $50,000 for new liquor licenses.
“It (the application fee) does need to be reasonable,” she said. “But it also needs to be high enough to be appropriate so that we get people that are able to follow the rules and regulations, that we get an organization that is business and not … basically just a fly-by-night user kind of thing. We want to make sure that the permits go to the people that are serious about this as a business … that’s where that level of reasonableness needs to be.”
“Well, if we’re only charging $900 for a liquor license, $25,000 seems a little extreme,” said Commission Chairwoman Karrol Herman.
McCartney said that in addition to the license fee, she also put a $25,000 renewal fee into the ordinance for licensed facilities to pay annually on top of the one-time application fee.
“So, we could do the $25,000 application fee, and then the renewal fee be something less, or something different,” Wendt said. “… you want businesspeople, you want organizations that are able to meet those obligations. If Sturgis can sell a liquor license for $50,000, I don’t think it’s ($25,000 is) completely out of the question.”
Commissioner Frank Walton suggested keeping $25,000 for the application fee and $15,000 for the annual renewal rates.
All of the commissioners agreed on the rates proposed by Walton and held first readings for both ordinances.
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