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What to know about Louisville’s proposed medical marijuana zoning regulations

Exterior view of a medical marijuana shop at night
Creative Commons
Louisville is trying to get regulations ready for medical marijuana businesses.

Louisville Metro is working to get regulations in place for medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities before the state starts taking license applications July 1.

Louisville’s Office of Planning and Design Services are proposing guidelines for where medical marijuana facilities should be located in Jefferson County. The proposed regulations are more restrictive than state law, which only requires operations to be at least 1,000 feet from a school or daycare. They’re similar to how Louisville already regulates smoke shops and tobacco retailers.

The Planning Commission approved the zoning rules late last month. It’s now up to Metro Council to decide on any amendments to the proposal and take a final vote.

Interim Planning Director Brian Davis said the city is sprinting to get regulations for medical marijuana facilities in place before July 1, when Kentucky will open its application portal for a limited number of state licenses. Interested entrepreneurs will have to propose a location for their facility.

“This has been one of those interesting ‘wait, wait, now go’ situations,” Davis said. “A lot of counties and communities across the state right now are trying to figure out exactly how they would like to tailor it at the local level.”

When the state legislature legalized medical marijuana last year, it left it up to local governments to decide how to use local zoning rules to regulate it.

Davis said city planners looked at existing regulations in similarly sized cities, such as Cincinnati and Columbus. The proposed structure creates different rules for different types of facilities.

Under state law, licenses will be handed out for four different types of establishments: cultivators, where medical marijuana is grown and harvested; processors, where raw plant material is processed and packaged; safety compliance facilities, responsible for contamination and purity testing; and retail dispensaries.

Kentucky will award licenses through a lottery. Only two medical marijuana dispensaries will be located in Louisville during the rollout of the program.

The zoning regulations proposed by Planning and Design Services expand the state’s rule to bar a licensee from opening a dispensary within 1,000 feet of:

  • parks
  • public playgrounds
  • public community centers
  • religious buildings
  • public libraries
  • indoor or outdoor athletic facilities
  • another dispensary

Dispensaries would be allowed in areas zoned C-2, which are standard commercial areas, and C-3, covering the central business district downtown. Owners will have to apply for a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission.
Medical marijuana growing and processing facilities, meanwhile, would be allowed in most industrial and commercial manufacturing areas without a special permit.

Davis said he thinks they strike a balance between allowing this new industry to succeed and state lawmakers’ concerns about marijuana’s availability to children and crime around dispensaries. Davis said the commercial and industrial zoned areas where the facilities would be allowed are “not uncommon out in the community.”

“Jefferson County is only going to have two dispensaries to start out with, so I think there’s ample opportunity for two of these businesses to be able to locate in our community,” he said.

Davis said it will ultimately be up to the businesses or people applying for a license to make sure their proposed site meets the necessary requirements.

Smoking would be banned inside all dispensaries in Jefferson County. Dispensaries would be allowed to operate between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and cannot be located on the same property as a cultivator or processor.

Louisville may also include rules on growing and processing facilities, including a requirement that they have a functional air filtration system that prevents the odor of marijuana from leaving the property boundaries. Growing operations would have to be indoors, in a locked facility.

The ordinance laying out these proposed rules is assigned to Metro Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 11.

Other cities and counties in Kentucky are also rushing to try to pass medical marijuana regulations before the state starts accepting license applications.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is considering regulations similar to those proposed in Louisville, with a final vote expected later this month. The City of Morehead in eastern Kentucky hosted a public comment session with residents last week about potential regulations there.

State law also allows local governments to opt out of the program. Campbell County in Northern Kentucky voted last week to prohibit dispensaries and other medical marijuana facilities while cities within the county debate participation.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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