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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 had a public hearing set for Wednesday on a project it initially reviewed at its Aug. 16 meeting.

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."

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.

Benton County voters favored medical marijuana by 50,744 votes, or 53.6 percent, and logged 43,924 votes against, or 46.4 percent.

Metro on 09/10/2017

Print Headline: Benton County planning for marijuana operations

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