One of the first approved medical marijuana dispensaries in West County is already at the center of a brewing controversy even though it has yet to open its doors.
At the Oct. 28 regular Wildwood City Council meeting, councilmember Kenneth Remy [Ward 3] questioned a recent zoning decision by the Ellisville City Council on Oct. 16 that approved a site development plan and conditional use permit [CUP] that would allow for a new medical marijuana dispensary to be known as The Forest at 184 Clarkson Road.
A resolution authored by Remy condemned the Ellisville city council for “approving the placement of a medical marijuana dispensary, including growing and manufacturing marijuana, at a distance of potentially less than 1,000 feet from the Ellisville Elementary, which is attended by multiple students from Wildwood.
“You don’t change the zoning rules when it could put kids at risk,” Remy said. “Furthermore, to believe a marijuana dispensary is the same as an FDA regulated pharmacy is purely wishful thinking.”
Remy has contended that the location does not provide enough buffer between the medical marijuana operation and a public school.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services [MDHSS], the state entity charged with regulation of medical marijuana, stated that in the case of a freestanding facility “the distance between the facility and the school, daycare, or church shall be measured from the external wall of the facility structure closest in proximity to the school, daycare, or church to the closest point of the property line of the school, daycare, or church …”
MDHSS rules also state that measurements shall be made along the shortest path between the demarcation points that can be legally traveled by foot.
Although zoning is usually strictly a municipality by municipality issue, Ellisville Elementary is part of the Rockwood School District and some students attending live in Wildwood.
However, Ellisville officials maintain that the proposed facility would be more than 1,000 feet from the nearest school, daycare or church.
The CUP approval was unanimous and members of the Ellisville City Council emphasized the process they followed before making the approval.
“We’ve been looking at this legislation for a year,” Ellisville Mayor Mike Roemerman said. “We’re being very careful about what we do.”
Ellisville councilmember Dan Duffy [District 3] pointed out that, prior to the Oct. 16 vote, there was plenty of opportunity for public input.
“When [the request for approval from The Forest] first arose, there was significant publicity and media coverage,” Duffy said. “Many citizens gave valuable input and the restrictions surrounding a possible dispensary were discussed in detail at several public hearings. Members of the Wildwood council and Wildwood residents were welcome to comment as the conditions and restrictions were being developed. No members of the Wildwood council came forward during this time.”
Wildwood councilmember Lauren Edens [Ward 2] was asked by Remy to review the draft resolution and spoke favorably of the measure.
“This resolution would prevent the appearance of negligence by the city of Wildwood, if something unfortunate would happen to a Wildwood student, due to a zoning decision made by the city of Ellisville,” Edens said. “That is out of our purview by expressing our dissent.”
Another assertion made by Remy was that the Ellisville City Council rezoned the property of Clarkson just to get a marijuana dispensary.
“The bills were sequential,” Remy said. “The first step was to change the zoning. The next step was to allow for conditional use by this company from Ohio [for the dispensary]. People can look at the record.”
“We rezoned it because that property is destined to be a commercial property,” Roemerman said.
Not every member of the Wildwood council agreed with Remy’s resolution.
“If parents of Ellisville Elementary students who live in Wildwood disagree with the zoning – they should speak directly to the elected officials in Ellisville,” Councilmember Niles Stephens [Ward 8] said. “Ellisville is not in violation of the law.”
Ellisville councilmember Cindy Pool [District 3] attended the Wildwood City Council meeting on Nov. 12 to hear firsthand what the concerns were.
“To reconsider the zoning issue, we’d have to have a specific reason,” Pool said. “The CUP has already been approved. I’m always willing to take a second look at anything.”
When asked how many complaints or calls from concerned citizens she received after Ellisville issued the CUP for the new medical marijuana dispensary, Pool said “none.”
“People are accepting the fact that hopefully [the dispensaries] will be regulated better than liquor stores and with more security than a regular pharmacy,” Pool said.
Roemerman concurred that his office did not receive any complaints after the CUP was issued.
Nevertheless, Remy stated that he has heard from multiple concerned residents, including parents of students from Ellisville Elementary.
“It’s not that we’re questioning that Ellisville should have a dispensary or where they would like to put it,” Remy said. “But we feel this location may, and we’re not saying definitively, may have potentially negative consequences for children.”
In a statement from the Rockwood Drug-Free Coalition’s medical marijuana education night held on Nov. 12, Rockwood School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles stated a desire for residents receive proper health care resources, but the importance of student welfare came first and foremost.
“Rockwood officials do not want to stand in the way of people accessing legal health care,” Miles said. “But our responsibility is for the care and well-being of the children in our communities. Normalizing marijuana usage does not help achieve that. We support the state of Missouri’s assertion that such facilities should not be located within 1,000 feet of a school.”
Roemerman said he would be happy to entertain further discussion and debate among fellow city council members on the CUP for The Forest if other members had a desire to do so.
The Forest is set to open sometime after January 2020, because that’s when state officials are expected to finalize the first licenses for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries.
At the Nov. 12 Wildwood council meeting, Remy asked that the resolution be tabled until the next city council meeting on Nov. 25 so Ellisville officials would have a chance to reopen the discussion on the zoning for The Forest.