The Williston City Commission has approved a Special Permitted Use application for the location of Williston's first medical marijuana dispensary.

Harvest Health and Recreation Inc. was awarded two of the state's four total licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries and is the only company to be licensed for the City of Williston. At Tuesday's meeting of the Williston City Commission, Principal Planner Rachel Laqua presented the item to the commission, stating that the issue had been brought before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 17. She stated that a number of concerned neighbors had attended the meeting, and had shared their apprehension about the dispensary's location. Laqua noted that the application met all requirements for a compassionate care center-distributor based on the criteria outlined in the city’s ordinances.

The location of the Harvest of Williston facility is 120 26th Street E, in the strip mall containing businesses Qdoba and Smiling Moose Deli. Laqua explained that the proposed location was in an "exception area" that meets all state requirements in terms of distances from schools, but it does not meet the city's required distances from residences, which was a main point of contention for concerned community members.

Harvest representative Pat Murphy addressed the commission, sharing a slideshow outlining the company's business model. Murphy noted that Harvest currently holds 40 marijuana licenses in 11 states, and that none of those facilities had had any issues with law enforcement.

"Harvest dispensaries are secure, discreet, clean and patient-friendly," he said. "Our objective is to be a good neighbor."

Murphy continued that the company planned to invest around $400,000 into the property, which would include internal and external security with 24-hour monitoring. He added that he had spoken to the building's landlord, and had been assured that additional lighting and security would be added to the rear of the location, which was another issue neighbors had brought up during the planning and zoning meeting. Additionally, he added, a fence that was in disrepair would be fixed, adding additional security.

Community members took to the podium after Murphy, with two individuals expressing support for the dispensary and its location, and two speaking against the location, but expressing their support for medical marijuana. Dr. JulieAnn Wick lives directly south of the location and stated her concern about having a dispensary so close to where children play.

"There are many other locations that are more appropriate, that would not be in the backyard where about 15 young children play on a regular basis," she said. "Also, we're concerned about our property, our property values. We've heard lots of stories from other states where these things came in to these areas, and the property values went down."

Wick pointed out several other areas that had been approved for a dispensary, and questioned why an exception zone was chosen for the facility and inquired whether the location could be changed. According to minutes from the Dec. 17 planning and zoning meeting, Murphy had explained that other locations outside of the exception area had been considered, but it was determined they were not practical in terms of size, access and visibility.

As the commission considered the public comments, Laqua pointed out that she had spoken at length with Health Department Division of Medical Marijuana Director Jason Wahl, and that since the state had already approved the proposed location, denying the application and requiring a change in location could jeopardize Williston's eligibility for a compassionate care center.

"If this is denied, it does put Williston at risk of not having a compassionate care center," she explained. "I want to make that clear from my conversations with the state. We talked with the attorney about it as well, so it is something you should be aware of."

Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk made a motion to approve the special permitted use application with the conditions presented by the planning and zoning commission, as well as requiring the property owner to build a city-approved six-foot solid fence along the rear of the property and install adequate lighting along the sidewalk to the west of the facility. The commission voted unanimously to approve the motion, allowing Harvest of Williston to proceed once the commission's conditions have been met.

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