Davison County leaders gathered Tuesday to discuss the county’s plans for the July 1 enacting of legislation for medical marijuana in South Dakota, laying out where it could be allowing cannabis-related businesses in the county.

No formal action was taken Tuesday, but the 1-hour, 45-minute discussion primarily centered on medical marijuana dispensaries, with the Davison County Commission agreeing in principle to allow only one dispensary outside the city limits of the three municipalities in the county.

Because each community cannot flatly prohibit a dispensary from opening in their jurisdiction, Ethan, Mitchell and Mount Vernon could theoretically each have one location, along with one in the rural part of the county, bringing the overall minimum of locations in Davison County to four.

No decision was made about how many other types of marijuana businesses would be allowed in the county, ranging from cultivating, manufacturing, or testing.

A consensus was built around only allowing a dispensary in areas zoned rural commercial. In Davison County, that essentially only allows a dispensary along Betts Road within a three-mile stretch in the area of 254th Street (Old Highway 16) and Interstate 90.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Davison County Deputy State’s Attorney Jim Taylor said the county will likely need two ordinance changes: one that deals with the zoning of these businesses and one that covers licensing and permitting requirements. He said almost every city and county government in the state is likely considering the same question right now about how to handle the medical marijuana question.

The timeline for medical marijuana requires the South Dakota Department of Health to establish a form for registering and renewing medical marijuana applications by Oct. 29, 2021, and be ready to issue ID cards for qualifying patients by Nov. 18, 2021.

The legislation does not allow counties or municipalities to flatly prohibit dispensaries from operating in their areas. Businesses can’t be in operation without a state license for medical marijuana, but the licenses will require applicants to meet local rules, which gives the local governments powers to set rules.

The meeting included Davison County State’s Attorneys Jim Miskimins and Jim Taylor, Mitchell City Attorney Justin Johnson, District 20 state legislators Josh Klumb and Lance Koth, members of the Davison County Planning Commission and Steve Harr, the county’s acting sheriff. Among those leaders, the sense was that they should be quick, but not hurry, in setting the rules.

“If you adopt something now, you can still go back and change it later,” Johnson said. “If you need to go back and make changes, it’s better to put more in place up front and change it later based on what you might hear from the state and input from the community.”

Johnson said he does not expect large demand from consumers on July 1 for medical marijuana because the state’s apparatus for ID cards won’t be set up until November. But he said there will likely be considerable interest from businesses and entrepreneurs.

“I don’t think we’re looking at July 1 as a land rush,” Johnson said. “It’s important that we act but the sky isn’t necessarily falling either.”

And Amendment A still looms large. If the constitutional amendment — which was passed by voters in November to legalize recreational marijuana and now waits for a ruling from the South Dakota Supreme Court — is put back into effect by the courts, the entire medical marijuana discussion could be thrown out as legalized marijuana would become the focus. The court likely controls the timeline as well.

“The reality is, and I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but if the constitutionality of recreational marijuana is resolved and we have recreational marijuana, you’re not going to see very many medical marijuana sales,” Taylor said.

A discussion was also held about what the licensing fee would be. The state has established up to $5,000 as a reasonable fee, and the county could charge the same, Johnson said. He said the city of Mitchell intends to treat it as an annual fee.

Mark Jenniges, the acting Planning and Zoning Administrator for Davison County, said the goal of that would be to not create a secondary market for licenses. Instead, it would be renewable each year but not transferable from person to person or even to an LLC. The creation of the county's rules will likely include public hearings in June.

Questions were also fielded about the extra-territorial jurisdiction between Mitchell and Davison County, which means it is outside city limits but within the city's zoning jurisdiction of three miles, requiring Davison County to have a say in the matter as well. Taylor said that the county has ceded zoning in that area to the city, but can still permit and license in the county’s territory but the licensee would have to conform to Mitchell zoning.

Taylor said the zoning change will be the easy part of the equation, but having licensing requirements will be more difficult. He said it is the commission’s responsibility to write the ordinance and when asked if the county could require fencing, locked gates and security cameras at a dispensary, he said he would be careful to not overstimulate how businesses should operate.

“Banks all have burglar alarms, even though we don’t tell them to do so,” Taylor said.

Commissioner John Claggett said he wanted the county to only allow a dispensary at this point, rather than other cannabis-related businesses “because we’re backed in the corner of it.”