County taking cautious approach on cannabis

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In 2020, the State of South Dakota saw Measure 26 added to its ballot. This measure would allow for medical cannabis to be legalized in the state. The measure had its share of controversy, which continues to this day.

On November 3, 2020, Election Day across South Dakota, Measure 26 passed overwhelmingly with 69.92% voting to allow medical cannabis and just 30.08% voting against it. In Kingsbury County the election had 1748 votes in favor and 990 votes against. The percentages for Measure 26 in Kingsbury County were 63.8% to 36.2%. While the percentage in favor may not have been as high as the statewide votes, it showed the county and state populations were in favor of medical cannabis, and not by just by a small margin, but a margin of one against for every two in favor.

Once the measure passed, the Department of Health was tasked with forming a committee and authoring the rules and regulations that would control a new medical pharmaceutical and business in South Dakota.

The cities and counties in South Dakota were tasked with adopting ordinances dealing with medical cannabis. How many dispensaries would be allowed? What will be the cost for a license? Locations or zoning had to be addressed in a manner that did not deny anyone an opportunity to operate a cannabis dispensary or cultivate the now legal crop in any municipality.

Many of the towns in Kingsbury County had already passed their ordinances regarding the medical cannabis months ago. License fees vary in the county from $5,000 (state-suggested fee) to $50,000 for a one-year license.

While the municipalities in Kingsbury County were busy addressing their new ordinances, Kingsbury County Commissioners had yet to adopt any ordinances. On April 5, the Kingsbury County Commissioners held their first reading of the proposed Ordinances 62 and 63. The second reading of the two ordinances will occur during their April 21 regular meeting. The delay makes Kingsbury County one of the last counties in South Dakota to adopt a cannabis ordinance.

Kingsbury County Commissioner Doug Kazmerzak said, “I would stand by our decision to wait as long as we could, so that we were sure we would make all the right decisions. We wanted to go into this with a good understanding. And that is why I guess we probably were reluctant to jump in on it early.”

“We wanted to see what surrounding counties were doing,” he continued. “Not that we wanted to or needed to imitate what they were doing. We obviously were ready and willing to strike out on our own. By waiting, we did the right thing. We researched this properly, and it did make us one of the last. In this case it would probably testify that by dotting the I's and crossing the T's and maybe yes, being the last explains our cautiousness of getting into it.”

It is the state and local government’s responsibilities to make sure the rules and guidelines are in place for the safe handling, growing, sale and other operations pertaining to medical cannabis.

“The biggest concern of ours in implementing the ordinance is going to be safety, particularly for growers, and safety for our residents overall,” said Kazmerzak. “Our biggest concern is safety, and consulting with our law enforcement in Kingsbury County and wanting to make their job as easy as we can, while implementing the new ordinances.”

Kingsbury County’s Ordinance #62 allows for one dispensary and three cultivation operations. Cultivating facilities will be limited to just three areas along Highway 14. The state requires that each facility be 1,000 feet away from any public or private school.

Kingsbury County has not only restricted any medical cannabis dispensary and cultivation areas to be 1,000 feet from private or public schools, but also from churches, parks, areas of recreation and residences as well. The county then adds that the clearance is from the lot line and not the actual structure(s). The county also requires that the cannabis establishments must be built in zoned commercial/industrial districts.

Kingsbury County Ordinance #62 does allow the separation distances to be waived by the commissioners, except for private and public schools, since that is state-mandated.

Kingsbury County ordinance also stipulates that a cannabis cultivation area can only be located on South Dakota Highway 14 between 430 Avenue, west of De Smet, to 452 Avenue, west of Arlington. No cannabis cultivation facilities can be located within a mile of De Smet, Lake Preston or Arlington.

This leaves three areas allowed for cultivation. The first is a little more than a mile west of the De Smet city limits, another five miles between De Smet and Lake Preston and finally, an eight-mile stretch between Lake Preston and Arlington.

Another item that will limit the possible locations of a cannabis cultivation facility is access to broadband. Operators of any cannabis facilities are required to have video surveillance on sight with multiple cameras that the State of South Dakota can monitor at any time.

“What we were trying to do was simply limit the risk exposure,” said Kazmerzak. “We are never going to eliminate the total possibility of something bad happening, but we can try to address the accessibility of risk. We felt that keeping it on the major highways is a way to lessen that.”

cannabis considerations

Restricting an area for the cannabis cultivation can give the appearance of favoring a certain individual(s) or restricting other individuals who reside outside the approved area. Why is the western portion of Highway 14 in Kingsbury County off limits? If Highway 14 is considered safe, why are there no corridors for cultivation along Highway 25 or Highway 81?

When it comes to safety, there was an incident in Kingsbury County where an attempted burglary of an ATM was committed, and that was at an intersection of two highways. Video cameras were recording the crime, and still the higher traffic and video cameras did not deter that criminal.

People who want to cultivate cannabis in Kingsbury County currently face the following restrictions.

• They must meet the licensing requirements set by the county or municipality and the state.

• They must find a district property that is zoned commercial/industrial on Highway 14, along the 14-mile corridors the county allows for cultivation of cannabis.

• The property would need to have access to a high-speed broadband to deliver the many different camera feeds the state mandates for cannabis cultivators.

• The lot line or property line would have to be 1,000 feet from any public or private schools, churches, parks, recreational areas and residences.

Accounting for these restrictions, options for cultivation placement in Kingsbury County become extremely limited.

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