The Ada City Council spent more than an hour Monday debating how far it could go in regulating medical marijuana-related businesses.

The council considered two versions of an ordinance that spelled out licensing and other requirements for dispensaries and commercial growing and processing operations. One version included a 300-foot setback between medical marijuana-related businesses and churches, while the other version omitted it.

After a lengthy discussion, the council voted 4-1 to approve the ordinance mandating the setback. Councilman Bryan Morris cast the only “No” vote.

Morris explained his vote by saying that State Question 788 — the voter-approved measure that legalized medical marijuana in Oklahoma —  bars retail marijuana businesses from setting up shop within 1,000 feet of a school but does not include setbacks for churches. The measure also bars cities and counties from passing unduly restrictive zoning laws to prevent retail marijuana businesses from opening.

Morris said creating a buffer zone for churches would invite a lawsuit, which would create a financial burden for the city.

“No matter how you feel whether or not it’s unduly or not, it’s a lawsuit, and the city’s going to have to pay for it,” Morris said. “We’ve got many things that we need to pay for.

“There are times to go to court, and there are times when I feel that we’re so up against it — if I’m going to pick a fight in court, I’m going to pick a fight I think that we have a reasonable chance to win.”

Councilman Guy Sewell said he disagreed with Morris, saying he did not think the 300-foot setback would violate SQ 788.

“We don’t have a business that this is going to negatively impact,” he said. “I don’t see this as unduly restrictive.”

Regulations

The ordinance includes a variety of conditions that dispensaries, commercial growing and commercial processing operations must meet before they can open. For instance, owners must obtain the appropriate license from the Oklahoma Department of Health as well as a city-issued permit.

The city will also require owners to pay a $1,250 application fee, which will offset the city’s regulatory costs. Additionally, owners would have to undergo a city inspection before they could get a permit.

A couple of people in the audience complained about the application fee, which they said would create a financial hardship for the owners of medical marijuana businesses. But most of the people who addressed the council focused on the proposal to create a 300-foot setback between dispensaries and churches.

Asbury United Methodist Church Pastor Travis Muse said some he supported a buffer zone for churches. He said some people in his congregation would probably benefit from using medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms, while other members of the congregation are trying to recover from abusing marijuana and other drugs.

“I don’t think anybody is trying to deny that the issue (of medical marijuana) has passed,” he said. “It’s trying to create some safe space so that individuals who have struggled with it can find a sanctuary in which they can continue to grow and improve and develop their life. At the same time, find a place that people are not threatened by the use of this in the community.”

But Ashley Griffin, who holds a commercial growing license for Pontotoc County with her husband, Clint, said SQ 788 bars cities and counties from passing zoning restrictions for medical marijuana businesses — except for the state-mandated buffer zone for schools.

“It is an overreach— a big mistake —  to try to zone this,” she said. “My best recommendation would be to stick with the statute of 788 and follow those guidelines.

“The state’s going to change our regulations. It’s going to happen. We’re going to have to follow with it. But until the state does it, local municipalities do not have the right.”

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.