MUSKOGEE — Citing a lack of desire to try “to go beyond the state,” the Muskogee City Council struck a proposed local ordinance that would have required local medical marijuana patients to obtain a license if they wanted to grow their own cannabis.
Although councilors in Muskogee voted Monday in favor of adopting limited regulations regarding State Question 788, some smaller municipalities across the state have taken a hardline approach and outright banned most commercial marijuana operations within their cities.
“The moral question of whether marijuana has a medicinal purpose or is good or bad was decided,” Muskogee City Attorney Roy Tucker said after Monday’s council meeting. “It was not up to us to make that decision. It was already made. What we needed to do was craft regulations that we would have for any other business, and so that’s what we did.”
Tucker said commercial entities will, as decided during a council meeting last week, still have to pay $750 annually for their licenses. But in deciding to remove all of the proposed ordinance language regarding home-growing marijuana, he and Deputy City Attorney Matthew Beese said they agreed that there was no benefit to the city to be more restrictive than what current law outlines.
Beese told the council that the unanimously-approved amended ordinance is “now in its purest form what it was intended to be, which is a business license registration.” He cautioned, though, that the law will almost certainly change when the Legislature goes back into session, which will mean the city will have to adapt accordingly.
“I just couldn’t be prouder to be a Muskogee citizen to see we’re not trying to keep out industry that is going to happen,” resident Billy Sanders said during his public comments to the council.
Sanders, a medical marijuana patient advocate, said he signed up to express his outrage over what he said were unfairly restrictive home-grow rules but instead praised councilors for listening to public concerns.
Unlike Muskogee, jurisdictions such as Elk City, Okemah, Sulphur and Yukon have opted to prohibit all commercial marijuana-growing and wholesale operations within their city limits. Marijuana storage facilities not in a retail outlet are also banned in those cities.
Businesses in Elk City and Sulphur cannot operate within 1,320 feet of schools, libraries, museums, playgrounds, child-care centers, churches, parks, public pools or other recreational facilities; any type of correctional center, halfway house or rehabilitation center; or another medical marijuana-related store.
Okemah limited the distance to those locations to 600 feet, while Alva and Yukon imposed a 1,000-foot limit.
Activists such as Sanders and Oklahomans for Cannabis, whose co-leader helped write SQ 788, have argued that such laws violate the spirit of the state initiative and likely will lead to court challenges.
Beese said the original idea to have home-grow permits came about based on an attempt to comport with earlier emergency rules adopted by the state Board of Health. But once the board removed language about home-grow operations, he said, “we backed off the same way.”
“There’s no sense in trying to go beyond the state. We never wanted to go beyond what the authority was that they gave us,” Beese said. “That’s just asking for a legal challenge to what you did.”
The Muskogee City Council discussed medical marijuana in a meeting last week, determining then that marijuana dispensaries should be able to operate only in the central business district or in areas already zoned for commercial use.
Commercial growing and processing businesses would also have access to those parts of the city but can additionally open in agricultural or industrial zones. Wholesale and storage facilities for medical marijuana, Beese said, can only set up shop in the latter zones.
Beese said the rules treat marijuana entrepreneurs just like those of any other business.
“For some of those cities who are trying to enact strict regulations, I think that does their citizens a disservice by essentially buying them a lawsuit, which in all likelihood is coming based on the state of the law right now,” Tucker said.
The Sulphur Times-Democrat reported last week that city councilors there amended the city’s ordinance to bar retail shops from opening along the city’s major streets. Elk City, according to the city’s website, did the same, saying retail permits will not be granted to anyone proposing to open on or adjacent to Old Route 66.
Okemah residents must pay $2,000 per year for a home-grow permit, according to its ordinance, which also says permittees will be subject to inspection by a municipal employee. Prospective dispensary owners must pay the city $3,000 annually.
Elk City’s home-grow permit requirements are essentially identical to Okemah’s.
In Yukon, the City Council established a $600 permit fee for retail establishments. Those seeking to grow in their homes must pay the city $240 annually.
Yukon’s and Alva’s councilors included a prohibition on marijuana businesses being open on Sundays — a restriction that appeared in now-defunct draft state rules approved by the Board of Health.
“To those cities, I say please consider what you’re doing,” Sanders said. “The 57 (percent who voted for 788) will not remain silent. It is a cannabis revolution, and we will not stop until we’ve got what is our right.”