Board consensus is to monitor state guidelines; and ‘wait and see’

By Melanie Stegner

The legalization of recreational cannabis has created a frenzy statewide as counties, cities and municipalities determine next steps through new territory with little direction available as the state sets up its cannabis board. 

The Pope County Board of Commissioners spent much of the committee of the whole meeting discussing how to handle the legalization and use in public places or if they’d rather establish a moratorium and study on land uses related to cannabis.

Two separate ordinance drafts were reviewed. The first was a prohibition of cannabis use in public places. Public places is defined in the ordinance as “any and all public places within the County of Pope, including but not limited to any public street, avenue, boulevard, right of way, road, alley, sidewalk, park, trail, parking lot, beach, pier, building and vehicle; provided however that the following shall not be considered a public place: a private residence including the person’s curtilage or yard, private property not generally accessible by the public, unless the person is explicitly prohibited from consuming cannabis flower, cannabis products, lower-potency hemp edibles or hemp-derived consumer products on the property by the owner of the property or the premises of an establishment or event licensed to permit on-site consumption.

This first ordinance draft would make the use in public places unlawful, meaning a person who violates the ordinance would be guilty of a petty misdemeanor and fined up to $300 or the maximum amount for a petty misdemeanor allowed by state law.

The second ordinance draft that was brought forth for discussion was an emergency interim ordinance prohibiting the establishment of new uses or the expansion of existing uses related to sales, testing, manufacturing and distribution of cannabis products. This draft states that “the board finds a prohibition on the establishment of new uses or the expansion of existing uses related to the sale of such products is necessary to ensure that Pope County has sufficient time to study potential regulations that will protect the health and safety of the residents of the county.” 

The consensus between board members was to continue to monitor what comes from the state and “wait and see” if the use gets abused or causes any problems for other departments. 

Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management was on the agenda to discuss a hauler collected service fee. Steve Vrchota, director of PDSWM presented the proposal to the board. Currently PDSWM uses a parcel-based service fee that was increased to cover the costs of capital projects for site expansion to cover debt service for matching funds for state grant dollars. Bond dollars were received at a low interest rate. Since the increase, there has been exceptional inflation in construction and operation costs. If the parcel fee were adjusted for inflation it would need to increase by about $25. 

Several complaints have come in to PDSWM that the parcel fee is not use-based. Small and large users pay the same amount. The hauler collected service fee is a percent of solid waste service fees and is based on solid waste services. As base rates go up, the hauler collected service fee would go up with those fees and it would have inflation adjustment. 

As the meeting was a committee of the whole meeting, a decision for any of these ordinances was not made but provided a space for discussing the issues at hand. The next regular board meeting will be held on September 19 in the third-floor meeting room of the courthouse.