Alva Review-Courier -

Alva City Council committee recommends changes to medical marijuana ordinance


September 8, 2019

At an emergency meeting Thursday night, Alva City Council's Ordinance Review Committee, consisting of Brian Wallis, Chris Eckhardt and Randy Stelling, developed recommendations for amending the city ordinance regulating the sale and growth of medical marijuana in Alva.

Angelica Brady, the city council's administrative assistant, said she was authorized to release details of the recommendations.

The original ordinance required medical marijuana dispensaries and related businesses to be 1,000 from parks, playgrounds, schools, libraries, museums, churches, day care centers, other medical marijuana establishments, and residential areas. For all but the last category – residential areas – the committee recommended that the 1,000-foot distance be cut to 300 feet.

As far as residential areas, the committee recommended the 1,000 feet of distance requirement be eliminated entirely. So, if the city council adopts the recommendations, medical marijuana businesses – while they still have to be in an area that is zoned for commercial use – can be right up against a residential area.

Another significant change Brady said was among the recommendations to come out of the emergency meeting was the removal of the $500 annual permit fee to grow medical marijuana for personal use. Also recommended for removal was the current ordinance's giving the city the right to inspect an individual's medical marijuana plants at any time.

Move Follows Protest, Attorney Letter

While Brady declined to say what prompted the emergency meeting, the meeting came only a day after some 50 people gathered on the courthouse lawn to protest the medical marijuana ordinance, particularly the very components that the committee altered.

The meeting also came after a Tulsa attorney with a background in medical marijuana law in Oregon – John Hickey with the Hall Estill law firm – sent a letter to Mayor Kelly Parker, City Attorney Rick Cunningham, and members of the city council. The letter, dated August 26, stated that Alva's ordinance is illegal and that the law firm planned to sue the city unless the ordinance was repealed.

The letter said, in part: “the Oklahoma Department of Health (OKDH) […] is the only entity authorized, empowered, or directed to take any action in relation to the implementation and regulation of activities related to medical marijuana in the state.

“Further, the (medical marijuana) act explicitly restricts cities from taking action in relation to the implementation and regulation of activities related to medical marijuana in the state. The act states in relevant part: 'No city or local municipality may unduly change or restrict zoning laws to prevent the opening of a retail marijuana establishment.' Therefore, as a matter of law, Oklahoma cities, including the City of Alva, are precluded from adopting regulations, zoning overlays, fees, or other restrictions regarding medical marijuana business activities authorized under the act.”

The letter says the city's ordinance violates state law in the following ways: requiring medical marijuana businesses to obtain permits from the city; imposing a fee upon medical marijuana businesses; imposing zoning restrictions prohibiting the location of medical marijuana businesses within 1,000 feet from schools, parks, residences and other locations; imposing restrictions regarding days and hours of operation; and requiring certain fencing and security requirements.

“Because the ordinance attempts to adopt regulations, zoning overlays, fees, and other restrictions regarding medical marijuana business activities, it is in direct violation of Oklahoma law and must be repealed,” the letter concluded. “We urge you to repeal the ordinance immediately. If the City of Alva does not repeal Ordinance No. 2018-004, a lawsuit may be brought in the Woods County District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the City of Alva and to strike the Ordinance as contrary to Oklahoma law.”

Recommendations Under Review; City Council Likely to Address in September Meeting

The recommendations developed by the ordinance review committee have now gone to City Attorney Cunningham for his review, Brady said. They still have to be approved by the city council.

The matter is on the agenda for the September meeting, Brady said, but “a million things could happen between now and then,” so she can't guarantee it will definitely be addressed in the September meeting.

If the city council does adopt the recommendation, the revised ordinance has to be run in the newspaper the following week, Brady said, and then the ordinance – assuming all of these things happen – would go into effect, “however, we will rely on attorney advice,” Brady said.

The city council's next scheduled meeting will be Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m.


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