Tuesday night’s Sioux Falls City Council meeting concluded after five hours, nearly two dozen citizens giving public input and a few heated words between elected officials.
Sounds familiar to meetings in 2020, in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, right?
But despite the similarities, it was medical cannabis, not masks, on the agenda Tuesday night as the council sent ordinances outlining the city’s zoning and licensing regulations for medical cannabis businesses to a second reading, as well as the joint zoning regulations between the city and Lincoln County.
Aside from the council taking action on the ordinances, the tone of the discussion was largely the same as it has been at other public meetings about the topic.
Industry officials, prospective business owners and medical cannabis patients expressed concern about the limited areas where dispensaries could be built in Sioux Falls, the $100,000 fee for both an initial license and its renewal every two years and the inability to operate cannabis cultivation or manufacturing businesses in the city.
Those proponents included Melissa Mentele, the author of Initiated Measure 26, the bill that legalized medical cannabis as of July 1 in South Dakota. Mentee said the fee was “making a barrier to entry” for business owners.
Business owners like Matt Jorgenson, the CEO of Flandreau-based Cannabis Chem Lab, who said his plans to open a testing facility in Sioux Falls might have to be on hold given the fee it would require.
And on each of those points, Councilor Greg Neitzert — who’s become the council’s point man on the topic — reiterated the ordinances were taking a conservative, cautious approach that was both more permissive that the law required, and able to be amended in the future.
While the votes to advance the ordinances were unanimous, the council’s agreement on this approach is not.
Councilor Janet Brekke said she was concerned about the ease with which a dispensary’s license could be revoked, and how many scenarios could be taken as grounds for that revocation, adding that she would likely have some amendments to propose.
And Councilor Pat Starr got into a heated discussion with Councilor Christine Erickson after she chided him for saying “This ordinance does what it’s intended to do: It regulates the industry out of business.”
Erickson said she didn’t appreciate the intentions of others being misrepresented, to which Starr shot back she’d spoken for him earlier that day — a seeming reference to a comments Erickson had made at the city’s budget hearing.
Starr had to be gaveled down briefly before Erickson could continue speaking.
Councilor Rick Kiley said he believed Starr was making comments that misrepresented the ordinance, which Kiley alleges “inflames the situation” and asked that a sense of decorum be retained in the discussion.
In a similar vein, Neitzert urged his colleagues to be transparent with any amendments they might be considering, saying that the complexity of IM-26 meant a “surprise amendment” could cause undue confusion.
They’ll have plenty of time to think about it. There’s a full three weeks until the council’s next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 7 in Carnegie Town Hall.