Planners grapple with marijuana zoning
The Nome Planning Commission has sifted through grids and charts for hours in two work sessions to determine where Nome’s 2008 zoning law allows budding entrepreneurs to establish marijuana operations.
The work order stems from citizens protesting at a Nome Common Council meeting concerning potential placement of a grow operation in a residential zone on Nome’s west side of town. Citizens asked the council to address the question; the council put the item on the NPC work table.
After some discussion at a work session before the July 12 meeting, commissioners established that the task at hand was not to alter the zoning or propose a revised ordinance, but to place marijuana operations on the zoning grid as the existing ordinance defined land uses in 2008. Alaska voters approved decriminalization of marijuana use by persons over 21 years old in November 2014.
The NPC had an interpretive grid before them drawn from extensive discussion at a previous work session, which allowed them to reach a consensus. As the state law licenses marijuana cultivation and processing and packing as smaller—less than 500 sq. ft. and standard—over 500 sq. ft. operations the NPC’s interpretation follows suit.
The public has indicated a concern with whether marijuana operations could operate in a residential zone. According to the NPC’s reading of the 2008 zone law, small growing operations, as well as small packaging and small processing facilities can operate in residential areas. Marijuana retail stores could operate in residential zones as a conditional use. A conditional use must have a hearing before the NPC with adjacent property owners notified of the meeting. Appeals based on decisions of the NPC go to the Nome Common Council.
The Nome Planning Commission, generally tasked with zoning and strategic planning, found that the 2008 zone law accommodated marijuana business as follows:
• Grow operations of less than 500 sq. ft., permitted in General Use, Residential, Commercial, and Industrial zones; a conditional use in Resource Development and not allowed in Open Space/Recreational zones.
• Grow operations over 500 sq. ft. not allowed in General Use, Residential, Commercial or Open Space/Rec zones, but permitted in Industrial Zone and as a conditional use in Resource Development zones.
• Processing and packaging—less than 500 sq. ft.—same rules as smaller grow operations, OK in General Use, Residential, Commercial and Industrial zones, not allowed in Open Space/Rec zones, allowed as conditional use in Resource Development Zone.
• Processing and packaging—over 500 sq. ft., same as grow operations over 500 sq. ft.
• Retail stores can operate in General Use, Commercial and Industrial zones, but is not allowed in Open Space/Rec zones, OK as conditional use in Resource Development Zone. A smaller store of less than 500 sq. ft. may operate in a Residential Zone. Stores may not operate in Open Space/Rec Zone.
• Onsite sale, use and consumption—sampling the product purchased on licensed premises in a designated area—may not occur in Residential and Open Space zones, but may happen in General Use, Commercial, and Industrial zones, and as a conditional use in Resource Development Zone if approved by the NPC.
• Marijuana test labs may exist only in Industrial and Resource Development zones.
• No marijuana cultivation, processing or retail stores may establish within 500 feet of churches or schools.