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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's authority over marijuana cultivation facilities and dispensaries is limited to applying the county's land use regulations, officials said.

Justice of the Peace Brent Meyers asked County Judge Barry Moehring at the Quorum Court's Aug. 24 meeting to look into the issue after learning a cultivation facility was going through the county's planning process. The county Planning Board has a public hearing set for Wednesday on a project it initially reviewed at its Aug. 16 meeting.

Medical marijuana

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016 amended the state Constitution making the use of medical marijuana legal and established a system for cultivation, acquisition and distribution of medical marijuana.

Source: Staff report

Meyers said he is concerned the county will approve an illegal business because federal authorities consider marijuana illegal.

Moehring disagreed.

"This is a Planning Department and a Planning Board matter," Moehring said. "The county is not here to relitigate a matter the people voted for in 2016. Medical marijuana is now legal. The state is setting up regulations for it. The Planning Department has those and the Planning Board has those. Our job is, within our planning regulations, to follow the law."

Planning staff and George Spence, county attorney, said the state has said cities and counties can subject medical marijuana facilities to planning and zoning rules and regulations, but they should be treated as retail pharmacy operations, Moehring said.

Benton County is doing nothing illegal, Spence said.

"The state is going about providing regulations as provided for in the amendment," Spence said in a memo to Moehring. "If the Justice Department wants to come in and shut down these facilities, I suppose they can."

Michelle Chiocco, justice of the peace, said she supports Spence's reading of the law and doesn't think the county should go beyond the planning rules and regulations.

"I'm almost sure Brent is personally opposed to medical marijuana. I'm a proponent of it myself, and the people of Arkansas voted for it."

Cities and counties are not allowed to prohibit the operation of any facilities unless such a prohibition is approved at an election, according to the amendment. Dana Caler, election administrator with the County Clerk's Office, said state officials have said they are working out the requirements for such elections, but nothing has been communicated to the county.

Meyers said he's not happy with medical marijuana being legalized and was surprised Arkansas voters approved the constitutional amendment. Benton County voters passed it by a margin of 50,744 in favor, or 53.6 percent, to 43,924 votes against, 46.4 percent.

"I really never suspected Benton County would approve it," Meyers said. "Washington County, it wouldn't surprise me because of the university, but not Benton County."

Meyers said he is still concerned about the operation of medical marijuana businesses, pointing to security questions and potentially hazardous chemicals that could be used in the process. He said he wouldn't support county residents trying to call for another vote.

"It's here, and the county shouldn't waste the money on that," he said. "I do want to make sure it's done right and everything is controlled properly so we can keep it off the streets."

NW News on 09/05/2017

Print Headline: Officials say county can't reject marijuana businesses

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