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Mitchell City Council tables three medical marijuana dispensary variances to tweak zoning codes

medical marijuana
Shown here is medical cannabis.
Shutterstock/Atomazul
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MITCHELL — Three medical marijuana dispensaries in need of variances to open their businesses are in limbo after the Mitchell City Council tabled all variance requests on Tuesday to revisit the city’s zoning codes.

While three groups of medical marijuana entrepreneurs were anticipating a decision from the council on whether their variances receive approval, City Attorney Justin Johnson recommended the council table all of the variance requests to provide the city with time to change the zoning codes for medical marijuana establishments. With the council’s decision to heed Johnson’s recommendation, it halts three dispensaries from opening in Mitchell until March or April, if approved.

Johnson said the city’s zoning codes for medical cannabis dispensaries have shown several areas that create “absurd” and “unintended” results. In particular, Johnson highlighted how right-of-ways are factored into the city’s medical marijuana zoning codes as an example of an area that needs to be revisited.

“One application you have here tonight (Native Nations Cannabis) would run a considerable distance from Mitchell Technical College campus, but nearly all of it is within Interstate 90,” Johnson said. “That is just one example of how the strict interpretation of that language can lead to some absurd and unintended results.”

The city’s zoning code states the buffer zones for dispensaries are calculated from a property line to property line with the exclusion of right-of-way territory, which includes state highways and major roads like Interstate 90.

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For example, Flandreau-based Native Nations Cannabis’ proposed dispensary location at 1620 S. Burr St. near Interstate 90 is technically more than 1,000 feet from the nearest educational institution and another dispensary. However, if the right-of-ways are excluded in measuring the distance of buffer zones like the city’s zoning codes outline, it would put the location within 1,000 feet from both Mitchell Technical College and another nearby dispensary, which requires a variance to receive full approval.

“As we started running into more of these absurd results, we started thinking about how we can come up with a way to intercept this that will still make sense and preserve the original intent of what was expected when the ordinance was adopted,” Johnson said.

As the three dispensaries are sidelined until the Planning Commission and City Council finalize changes to the city’s medical cannabis zoning codes, two dispensaries have cleared all the hurdles to open. Jordan Raftis’ plan to open a dispensary in a strip mall next to Walmart was the first to receive full approval from the council, followed by a Missouri-based group called BesaMe Wellness, which plans to open a dispensary at the former Runnings building on South Burr Street.

While both were approved by the council on a first-come, first-serve basis, Johnson noted that Raftis’ dispensary should have also required a variance, if the Planning Commission and council would have followed the same guidelines of the city’s zoning codes like they did for the three dispensaries that are in need of variances to open.

“Under the strict interpretation of our ordinance, technically, none of the diagonal line through the Spruce Street right-of-way should count towards the distance of his (Raftis),” Johnson said. “That’s such a strange result that our staff didn’t even think of requiring a variance for it.”

Despite the council tabling the variances, Emmett Reistroffer, a Sioux Falls medical cannabis entrepreneur, emphasized he would run a “secure and safe,” dispensary at a store front on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street.

120721.N.DR.COUNCILPREVIEW2.jpg
Shown here is the Fifth Avenue and Main Street building that a Sioux Falls entrepreneur is seeking to open a medical marijuana dispensary. Tara Volesky recently purchased the building on the Northwest corner of North Main Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Reistroffer’s plan to open a dispensary at the downtown Mitchell location required a variance for the building’s property line falling within 300 feet of a church, which the city’s zoning code prohibits without the approval of a variance.

“We’re not trying to disrupt any neighbors or neighborhoods with this variance. This spot we found is the most turn-key ready and centrally located,” he said. “Our hope is to make it look like a doctor's clinic. We want to be discreet, and I have a great business plan that addresses things like odor control.”

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For the remaining two dispensaries that had their variances tabled on Tuesday, the both fell within 1,000 feet from another dispensary location. As part of the city’s zoning code, a medical cannabis dispensary cannot be within 1,000 feet from another unless a variance is approved. However, the buffer zone requirements could soon change as the council will change up the ordinance over the next few months.

Johnson said the earliest the council could bring the variance forward again and make a decision on them would be mid-March.

In closing, Johnson said tabling the variances to go back to the drawing board is the “most preferred” option, noting it is the most “fair” option that would be upheld in court if one were to take legal action against the city for a denied variance.

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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