City Council Meeting 8.13.19

Medical Marijuana from the Friendly Market. Medical marijuana is at the heart of a booming industry in Oklahoma. The Norman City Council unanimously postponed amendments for the medical marijuana ordinance that aligns it with updated state laws.

(Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Cities all around the state are updating their medical marijuana ordinances to match state law changes, but Norman is revisiting their set of amendments.

After much discussion during the Norman City Council's Tuesday meeting, from both council members and residents, a motion was unanimously passed to postpone all amendments until Aug. 27. Some council members also requested the item be brought up in the next study session for further clarification.

Assistant City Attorney Beth Muckala presented the amendments. She said state laws that are effective Aug. 29 created new licensure categories and some new types of business, which prompted the city to update its licensure process and zoning use categories to match.

The amendments would update Norman’s current medical marijuana ordinance, and includes amendments for licenses and occupations, several districts such as the general agriculture district, zoning ordinances and definitions.

The area in the amendments that was a point of contention was the suggested state license fees adjustment from $1,250 to $850. Many business owners, residents and some council members thought the $850 fee was still too high, while others thought it was a fine compromise.

“I have talked to a lot of medical marijuana business owners in the last couple of weeks and no one is really opposed to paying a fee,” Lucas Watson, Norman resident and owner of a marijuana business said.

“They want it to be fair and they want it to be equitable, and I think that is almost unanimous in everyone across the medical marijuana businesses. They live here in Norman. They work here in Norman,” Watson said. “They want the city to be solvent. They want money to go to sidewalks and low cost spay neuter and all of the things that residents want. They just want it to be fair.”

There are currently 66 medical marijuana businesses in Norman, and several business owners and residents gave input for both sides. Some residents said this could be a large and popular market now, but not all of those businesses will last and the council needs to do what is best for the city.

“I don’t think people are aware of the fee that is assessed with this. I payed almost $7,000 in permitting fees to be a processor in Norman,” Skylar Collins, Norman resident and a hopeful owner of two businesses in town. “I mean, it’s not just $850 and I understand that. What I’m thinking is that the price is ultimately going to go down, because I’m assuming it’s so high right now because we are having to do a lot of investigating.”

Collins said she is grateful for the compromise, but she wants it to be fair for businesses. On a yearly basis that’s a lot of money just to open a business here, she said. Collins said she almost left Norman to open a business in California because it’s cheaper.

Right now the fee is $100, and Mayor Breea Clark said that in previous study sessions they talked about raising the fees to help make sure city staff breaks even in the amount of time they invest in making sure the facilities are safe. However, she said she’s not interested in making money off of this. She said she want’s Norman to be as business friendly as possible.

Alison Petrone, Ward 3 council member, said she sees an equity problem. Since pharmacies do not have to be issued licenses, then medical marijuana facilities should not have to either, or at least the fees shouldn’t be so high, she said.

Petrone originally wanted to strike the permitting fee amendment, but City Attorney Kathryn Walker offered the postponement as an option for the entirety of the amendments. Alex Scott, Ward 8 council member, motioned for the postponement and the council as a whole went that way.

“I think we need to revisit all of these [Norman's business permitting fees]. I don’t think that we should be throwing a dart at individual businesses, and deciding what each permit should be associated with what we sell at their store,” Petrone said. “I think we need to be uniform across the board.”

The state laws are effective Aug. 29, which is also the council’s deadline. If the council passes the amendments Aug. 27 they would be two days ahead of schedule, but several said they would like to take this time to make a more informed decision that is data driven.

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