Equal access sought in sites for medical marijuana dispensaries

ST. LOUIS – The sponsor of a bill regulating medical marijuana facilities in St. Louis says equal access for all will be a primary concern in situating dispensaries for that product.

“What we want to do in the city of St. Louis is to create a framework that allows patients access to dispensaries,” 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar told the Board of Aldermen last week. “These are not liquor stores. These are not corner stores. These are medical facilities. These are for folks to go in who are suffering from debilitating diseases.”

Coatar introduced the bill to deal with zoning issues generated by voter approval in November 2018 of Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana.

In a preliminary vote on June 14, the board overwhelmingly approved Coatar’s bill. One more vote is required for approval.

Twenty-three voted for the bill in last week’s meeting. Fourth Ward Alderman Samuel Moore cited religious objections in casting the only “no” vote, and 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said he voted “present,” because he has clients in his law practice who use marijuana.

Twenty-four retail dispensaries are to be in each congressional district. Coatar said he hoped the city would get as many of the dispensaries assigned to the 1st District as possible.

Besides dispensaries, licenses are required for cultivation centers, manufacturing and infusion and laboratories.

To use a dispensary, people will have to get a card issued by a physician, Coatar said. Areas with high unemployment get preference.

Fifth Ward Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard said she hoped that equity would be considered in the granting of licenses. “It’s my hope that we go above and beyond to make sure that minorities are included,” she said.

First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus was worried about the smell, especially around schools. “I don’t want the kids to be close enough to have any contact,” she said.

Coatar said the cultivation facilities that might have the smells would be in light industrial zones where children wouldn’t be. Scrubbers to eliminate odor would be a requirement.

“We don’t want any contact highs when we’re driving down Interstate 70,” Coatar joked.

Coatar said the city could have required medical marijuana facilities to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, churches and daycare centers. But because everything’s so close together in St. Louis, no minimum distance requirement was made.

The facilities cannot allow on-site consumption of marijuana or products infused with marijuana. Only retail dispensaries can have signs.

Also, all cultivation, processing, storage, display, sales or other distribution of marijuana must be inside a building. A dispensary must be in a permanent building and not in a trailer, cargo container, motor vehicle or mobile facility. It can’t provide delivery services unless allowed by state law.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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