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The room was packed at a Jasper City Council meeting to discuss zoning for medical cannabis businesses. Jasper Development Group LLC was recently awarded a state medical cannabis processing license.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission has been working on zoning regulations for the industry. A drafted version of the code established districts for each type of business, puts in place a minimum plot size of five acres, and requires a property not be located within 1,000 feet of a school, childcare center, church, public park, municipal government facility, or property zoned as residential.
Businesses must have plans for:
- conceptual site plan
- odor control
- waste management
- standard operating procedures
- security plan
Concerned citizens and representatives of Jasper Development Group spoke to the council during their work session on Friday.
Jasper Development Group has proposed a site for a processing facility on Highway 78. The site falls within the 1,000 ft. threshold recommended by the Planning Commission of Glory Fellowship Baptist Church.
“I’m here today, based on what I have heard, this council can ignore what the planning commission has requested. I would ask you to maintain this. It seems unwise, at least to me, for a five-person city council to ignore a seven-person planning commission,” said Adam Brewer with Glory Fellowship Baptist Church.
Brewer said he’s had conversations with Tyler Robinson, the CEO of Jasper Development Group.
“I can appreciate the stories we’ve heard today. I can appreciate those, but I also am aware of where this can lead and where it is headed in other states without strict regulations and things of that nature. I have done some research and studies of other municipalities around the United States. Shelby County and Huntsville, a lot of them, it is a thousand-foot barrier between processing to schools, etc. Some have different boundaries for churches,” said Brewer.
He expressed the distance requirement should not be changed for churches.
“Every single week, at least three times a week, we have 120 kids at our church. We have 60 impressionable youth. During vacation bible school, church camp during the summer, we may have more than that,” explained Brewer. “What would make our church any different than the boundaries or protections given to a school?”
Brewer added the site for the processing facility is not the correct zoning district based on the Planning Commission’s recommendation.
Concerns were also expressed related to the odor and security of the facility.
Jasper Development Group’s attorneys requested the distance requirement be reduced to 250 ft between property lines or increased the footage to 750 feet but measured from door to door of one business to another. The company also requested the acreage requirement be reduced to one acre, instead of five. The request was also made to approve the company’s rezoning application.
“‘The properties are separated by a divided highway. You can only see the corner of Jasper Development’s facility from the front left corner of Glory Fellowships’s parking lot. From all other points of the church, the view of Jasper Development’s facility is blocked entirely by a small hill, numerous trees, and a couple of buildings,” said Lindsey Smith, attorney for Jasper Development Group.
Representatives with the business said there would be a system at the facility to reduce any odors as well as security that aligns with the requirements of the State of Alabama.
“Jasper Development’s facility will not be open to the public. It will not be a retail facility. It will have extensive security measures in place to ensure the integrity of its operations. For example, [according to the Alabama Code], medical cannabis will be tracked and monitored via an RFID chip from the time the plant is harvested by a cultivator to the time the product is sold at a dispensary. This process makes it virtually impossible for even a gram of cannabis to be improperly removed from these facilities… Further medical cannabis will be delivered to this facility in armored vehicles that will be verified with a license plate scanner. The trucks will pull into a secure Sally port for the transfer of the product. This facility will have multiple security guards,” said Smith. “Jasper Development has agreed to never put a medical cannabis dispensary in that location or a consumption venue. The location will never be open to the public as far as a retail facility where they could go in and leave with a medical cannabis product.”
Smith explained the facility would benefit Jasper economically. 10 jobs will be created at the facility to start and more jobs could be added as the company grows.
“Medical cannabis will be brought to Jasper regardless if there is a medical cannabis processing facility here. Jasper would benefit from having this industry here from collecting the tax and other revenue and from having jobs created for our residents. We should not drive these businesses to other cities and allow them to prophet instead,” said Smith.
“So many residents of Alabama are affected by or know someone who is affected by, the qualifying conditions that our legislators have approved to be treated by medical cannabis products. We hear, understand, and appreciate the concerns being voiced by some members of our community. We believe there is misinformation circulating about how these facilities will operate and how this product will be regulated. Today we sought to provide accurate information about the regulation and operation of these facilities in an effort to be transparent with our community and to quell some of their fears. We are excited to begin operating at our facility, and we look forward to making a positive impact on our community,” said Robinson in a statement to ABC 33/40.
Signs inside the meeting read “regulations before licenses” and “no marijuana dispensaries.” Some who were there didn’t want medical marijuana businesses in Jasper in general, especially dispensaries and integrated facilities. They asked for a resolution approved in 2022 to allow medical cannabis businesses to operate in the city to be revisited to allow the city to opt out of allowing dispensaries and integrated facilities.
“The citizens were not aware that the councilmen were going to opt us in for dispensaries. There’s some confusion over that,” said Iva Hendon, a Jasper resident. “Please opt out of integrated facilities and dispensaries so we don’t deal with retail sales in our city.”
Hendon said there is a need for stricter zoning regulations as well.
“We don’t have our regulations in place yet. We are saying don’t give [Jasper Developement Group] a city license under no regulations. We want to wait until our regulations are legally in place and then they can decide whether to grant them a license or not. They should also be asked to reapply under the new zoning regulations so they can’t say we are grandfathered in under nothing.”
Council members also heard from two mothers whose children deal with severe illnesses. They explained the increased quality of life for their children once they started using medical cannabis.
Amanda Sergeant said her daughter Ella has a terminal brain disease. Sergeant said it’s like Parkinson’s and Muscular dystrophy in one.
“Watching your baby convulse and shake violently and not being able to help in any way is probably the most terrifying and frightening thing a parent can face,” said Sergeant. “Ella received her first dose of two small drops. To my amazement, Ella’s body began to calm. She could lengthen her arms once again. Her Parkinson’s tremors, with two small drops of an oil, literally stopped in 45 seconds … Within a month of her using medical marijuana, she was off all of her Parkinson’s medications.”
No action was taken during the work session. No action is expected during the next council meeting related to medical cannabis zoning.
Some residents had questions related to the city attorney’s affiliation with Jasper Development Group. City Attorney Russ Robertson is listed on the company’s Certificate of Formation from the State of Alabama. The document was signed in November 2022.
In December 2022, the Jasper City Council voted on the ordinance to authorize the operation of medical cannabis businesses within the city limits.
ABC 33/40 asked Robertson if there was a conflict of interest.
“That activity was done prior to anything coming before the city. I have taken part in the formation of dozens if not a couple of hundred limited liability companies over my 26-year law career,” said Robertson. “The council adopted that resolution approving those businesses. We advise the council without reference to our prior representation of the entity about the council’s options with regard to the resolution.”
Robertson said he has no affiliation with the Jasper Development Group and hasn’t in “some time.” He added there has been no work done with anything that was brought before the city.