Carthage council tweaking city codes to account for marijuana changes

Mar. 4—CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Carthage City Council is continuing to make changes to its city code to accommodate the legalization of recreational marijuana use by adults approved by voters statewide in November 2022.

At their Feb. 28 meeting, council members gave unanimous final approval to changes in the zoning laws to say specifically where in the city businesses related to marijuana can open their operations.

They also heard on first meeting proposed ordinance changes to legalize the use of marijuana in the city and establish rules over how and where marijuana and related products can be consumed or grown. They also heard penalties for breaking those rules.

City Administrator Greg Dagnan said he’s been questioned by residents asking why the city is making these changes when local voters did not vote in favor of the state constitutional amendment that was approved statewide by voters in November 2022.

“I do get asked a lot about the marijuana ordinances and zoning, and why we’re just complying,” Dagnan said. “Our voters didn’t vote for this, why are we just complying? This is a constitutional amendment. It is not even a state statute. It’s not a law that we can tweak how we can enforce it. It is a constitutional amendment, we have very little say in how this goes. So we are going to have people using recreational marijuana in town no matter what we do, so we might as well prepare and get ready for that.”

City Attorney Nate Dally described some of the changes being proposed in the new ordinance, known as Council Bill 23-14 on the council’s agenda, and the difficulty writing an ordinance to comply with the lengthy constitutional amendment.

“We have a lot of questions regarding the marijuana ordinance and it is difficult to write a statute or ordinance that takes into account the constitutional protections,” Dally said. “Then you’ve got to reverse the things they say that are not protected.”

Dally said this new ordinance has to acknowledge the difference between medical marijuana and recreational use marijuana, each of which have different rules under the constitutional amendment.

He pointed out sections of the ordinance that deal with the medical use of marijuana by people with a medical marijuana card in public, which is different from recreational use of marijuana and can be banned in certain places.

He said the amendment allows for regulations on where marijuana is grown, but only allows civil penalties like fines and no criminal penalties for violations.

“Starting at No. 13, (the ordinance) breaks the fines down so even though these things are not legal, they are not necessarily a crime,” Dally said. “If you cultivate marijuana and it’s visible from a public place, it’s a $250 civil penalty and forfeiture of your marijuana. If growing in an unlocked area, $250 civil penalty.

“Smoking in a public place is a $150 civil penalty, but it’s not a forfeiture of the marijuana, so you don’t lose that. People under 21, if they are caught with marijuana, it’s still not a crime, it’s a $150 civil penalty and forfeiture of the marijuana or they can go to a four-hour drug education counseling session.”

Carthage Police Chief Bill Hawkins said the difficulty in writing the ordinance also highlights the difficulties officers will be facing when enforcing the ordinance.

“I think everyone certainly now is beginning to understand how complicated this whole process is going to be,” Hawkins said. “My first thought the first time I read was oh my gosh, we’re going to have to create a cheat sheet for an officer to carry. I’ve come to the realization that there’s not enough paper to create that type of cheat sheet, there are so many unknowns it would go on forever.”

The council will hear the ordinance on second and possible final reading at its next meeting, is is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14.

The zoning ordinance approved on Tuesday limits marijuana and medical marijuana dispensaries to district E, general business, and provides that no marijuana dispensary can be located within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare or church.

Marijuana cultivations, extraction and manufacturing facilities are limited to district F, light industrial areas of the community.

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