Medical Marijuana — A COMBAT Series Part 2

Medical Marijuana DispensariesDispensary Locations Spark Concerns About
Proximity To Schools & Increased Crime


UPDATED: Friday, November 1, 2019

How close is too close?

Initially, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) considered setting a maximum 200-foot buffer between medical marijuana dispensaries and any surrounding schools, daycares or churches. That prompted the Springfield City Council to begin debating a 1,000-foot barrier. 

“Having these facilities within one block of our public schools and daycare centers is bad policy,” Springfield Councilman Craig Hosmer said. (Springs News-Leader • April 9, 2019)
The finalized DHSS rules set the distance at 1,000 feet, with cities being given the option to reduce it:

Unless expressly allowed by the local government, no new cultivation, infused products manufacturing, dispensary, or testing facility shall be sited, at the time of application for license or for local zoning approval, whichever is earlier, within one thousand (1,000) feet of any then existing elementary or secondary school, daycare, or church.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and Schools
SIGNS THAT SHOULDN'T MIX? — The state Department of Health & Senior Services initially proposed a 200-foot buffer between schools and medical marijuana dispensaries, but eventually set the distance at 1,000 feet. Cities have the option to reduce it.

Cities may also regulate dispensary hours and how the sites fit within local zoning designations. The State Constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, which Missouri voters approved with nearly a two-thirds majority, prohibits local governments from banning dispensaries “through the enactment of ordinances or regulations.”

The Kansas City Council is currently debating its regulations for medical marijuana despensaries. City officials have proposed a 750-foot buffer between dispensaries and schoolsmore than double the 300-foot restriction for liquor stores. The council has received significant pushback, according to KCUR, and is being asked to avoid "overly restrictive rules."  

UPDATE: The Kansas City Council decided Thursday, July 11 that medical marijuana facilities must be at a minimum 300 feet from schools, daycares and churches.

St. Joseph and Creve Coeur, a St. Louis suburb, set the school/church barrier at 300 feet. St. Louis opted to have no buffer zone at all for its dispensaries.

Dispensaries & Crime

Beyond proximity to schools, the proposed locations of some dispensaries in Independence and other commuinities in Jackson County has raised concerns. "Some of these potential locations would be right in the middle of our crime hot spots,” said one local legal official.

The effect of medical marijuana dispensaries on crime is the subject of considerable debate, among not only pro- and anti-marijuana legalization activists, but also scholars. 

One study, based on county-level data collected in California, indicated “no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime.” RAND commissioned the study through a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But University of Colorado Denver researchers “found that neighborhoods with one or more medical or recreational dispensaries saw increased crime rates that were between 26% and 1,452% higher than in neighborhoods without any commercial marijuana activity.” They based these percentages on Denver Police Department reports between 2012 and 2015 about aggravated assaults, auto thefts, burglaries, drug and alcohol offenses, murders, robberies, thefts from cars and public disorder complaints.

Armed Robber Approaches Woman Getting Into Car
CARRYING CASH OR MARIJUANA — Because they will probably be carrying cash when going into a medical marijuana dispensary and possibly marijuana when leaving, dispensary patients may be targeted by robbers.

The UC-Denver professors, however, questioned if there was a direct correlation between the dispensaries and higher crime rates. Did Denver police simply target neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries for more scrutiny than those neighborhoods without them? Not knowing the answer to that question prompted the study’s coauthor, Associate Professor Lonnie M. Shaible, to conclude the supposed link between dispensaries and increased crime is “weak.” 

This conflicting information isn’t exactly making it easy for local officials to prepare for the day dispensaries open for business in Jackson County. 

Worried About People Carrying Cash & Drugs

Raytown Interim Police Chief Randy Hudspeth knows one thing for certain: the combination of drugs and cash could make robbery targets of patients getting their medical marijuana prescriptions filled.

“I do worry about people being preyed on as they come in and out of the dispensaries,” he said. “They’re going to be carrying cash, at least going in because it’s mostly a cash business because of federal banking restrictions. Going out they may be carrying marijuana. Either way, going in or out, these people could be targeted. 

“That’s a lesson learned from other states that have legalized marijuana sales.”

No private insurance plan covers medical marijuana perscriptions. Most banks won’t do business with marijuana dispensaries because the federal government requires them to still file “suspicious activity reports” and comply with other severe regulations, even though these dispensaries have state licenses. Federal bank regulators consider dispensary operators to be engaged in “suspicious activity.” Therefore, most dispensaries in Colorado and other states operate on a cash-only basis.

Cash Businesses

The U.S. House began debating measures this spring that would curtail these federal banking restrictions.

When Will Dispensaries Open For Business?

“Missouri is required to license 60 growing facilities, 86 manufacturers and 192 dispensaries, 24 for each of Missouri’s eight Congressional districts,” The Columbian Missourianreported May 28.

The DHSS rules are subject to change at the beginning of 2020. When the first dispensaries will open next year is, according to DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox, “really hard to speculate.”

By law, the department has 150 days to review business applications to grow, manufacture and dispense medical marijuana. That review process begins Aug. 3, putting the 150-day deadline on Dec. 31. Dispensaries are unlikely to immediately open right after New Year’s. They won’t have medical marijuana to dispense until after the licensed growers and manufacturers produce it.

"I do worry about people being preyed on as the come in and out of the dispensaries."