The Soldotna City Council held the first of two public hearings on commercial marijuana regulations Wednesday night, taking the next step for regulations to be enacted by Feb. 15, when the city’s moratorium on commercial marijuana expires.
There was minimal turnout for the public hearing part of the night, with only two speakers, but the real discussion was had between the council members as they hashed out the different amendments and policies they would like to see the city adopt in regard to marijuana. Two marijuana related ordinances were on the docket and both were tabled for further discussion on Feb. 14, when the council will hold a second public hearing and enact some form of the ordinances to regulate the commercial marijuana industry in city limits.
The first ordinance, Ordinance 2018-004, provides general standards and enforcement procedures for marijuana establishments written based on suggestions from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
The ordinance, among other things, details the type of commercial marijuana establishments allowed in the city and where they can be located. The ordinance allows for marijuana testing in limited commercial and commercial zones, and allows for marijuana retail and manufacturing in commercial zones. It would not allow cultivation anywhere in city limits.
The council amended the original ordinance to increase all buffer zones for marijuana establishments to 500 feet from the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation of a 200-foot buffer from libraries, substance abuse treatment facilities, transitional housing, recovery facilities and city parks. If the ordinance passes as amended, marijuana businesses will need to be 500 feet from these establishments and from schools, colleges, universities, state licensed day cares, recreation or youth centers, places of worship and correctional facilities. All the measurements would be a direct line from the lot line of the establishment to the lot line of the marijuana business, except for churches, where the distance is measured from building to building.
The first ordinance also outlined operating times. The state requires marijuana businesses be closed from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., but after some discussion, the council passed an amendment that would expand those hours form 12 a.m. to 8 a.m.
“We did look at local retailers in the area to find out what their hours and practice was,” said City Planner John Czarnezki. “…There’s a little bit of variation there but generally from 10 in the morning to 7, 8 or 10 at night.”
The second ordinance includes provisions for taxation and regulations of marijuana in city limits. It was introduced with the taxation rate left blank, but an amendment at the meeting levied a consumer’s sales tax of 1.5 percent on marijuana sales, for a total sales tax of 7.5 percent when combined with the city’s 3 percent and the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s 3 percent sales taxes. But even if the ordinance is passed with the additional tax, it wouldn’t take effect until January of 2019.
“It’s not as easy as we thought for (the borough) to implement a change like that,” said Interim City Manager Stephanie Queen. “It has not been done yet by a municipality in the borough and they have requested some time. It would also take some resources to amend the back end of their system to account for this type of change. … They’ve requested that we consider not implementing. So the effective date of that provision is January 2019 based on our conversation with the borough finance director.”
Queen also highlighted several things that weren’t addressed by the ordinances, including an excise tax, a cap on the number of licenses that can be issued by the city and the possibility of an additional city license in addition to the state license.
“Through the zoning review, and the city council’s ability to protest (the state’s licensing) based on any city permit code, or obligations not being met — we felt that we have sufficient opportunity to ensure the city’s needs are met through the existing state process,” Queen said in her memo.
The council will continue their discussion on these two ordinances at their next meeting on Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. Council members may submit further amendments to the ordinances at that time. There will also be another opportunity for public comment. Soldotna’s moratorium on marijuana will expire the following day, on Feb. 15.
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