City adds marijuana to clean-air ordinance

Mar. 20—Four months after voters approved Amendment 3, city policymakers continue to deal with the reality of legalized marijuana in Missouri.

The St. Joseph City Council voted Monday to include marijuana in the local smoking ordinance. The council's action means that marijuana is now banned in all public places where cigarette smoking is prohibited, like bars, restaurants, businesses and city buses.

"We've known that we would have to get it incorporated into the code," City Manager Bryan Carter said. "It hasn't been officially regulated until this point."

While marijuana is now legal for adults ages 21 and older, the language in Amendment 3 specifies that cities could regulate it in much the same way as tobacco products in public places. Voters approved the city's indoor smoking ban about 10 years ago. The city later modified it to include vape products.

Since adult-use marijuana sales started earlier this year, city health officials have received no complaints about smoking it in public. While the council's action was largely a technical measure, it does represent an effort to establish guardrails for use of a product that had $72 million in recreational sales in the first month statewide.

"It will take a while to figure out how all the regulations need to be imposed," Carter said.

The owner of one dispensary in St. Joseph said he agrees with the city's move to include marijuana in the indoor smoking ban. But Chris McHugh, the CEO and president of Vertical Dispensary, bristled when asked if marijuana users had any kind of additional obligation to regulate themselves in public, even in places where cigarette smoking is allowed, so that others didn't have to deal with the odor.

"I haven't heard much complaining about reasonable use," McHugh said. "Marijuana is normalized. It's something that the average person uses. It's like a glass of wine at night."

While marijuana and tobacco use are lumped together in the city code, all violations of the clean-air ordinance might not be treated in the same way. Amendment 3 limits the punishment to a $100 civil penalty for anyone who smokes marijuana in public.

In St. Joseph, a violator would face a municipal infraction and a $50 penalty for smoking tobacco in public, but a business could see a fine of $100 or more.

At Monday's meeting, the council also approved changes to the personnel policy governing drug use and drug testing of city employees. The new policy clarifies that employees cannot be impaired at work, even if they have a medical marijuana card.

The city will still require a job applicant to pass a drug screen, but an exception is established for someone with a medical marijuana card. That application could still move forward because of protections included in Amendment 3.

But in a possible exception to the exception, the city will prohibit marijuana use for any employee in a "safety-sensitive position" like police officers, equipment operators, lab workers or even lifeguards. Carter admits that could be a gray area if a safety-sensitive employee also has a medical marijuana card.

"It's going to be complicated," he said. "It's going to take a little while to figure out all of the rules."

Greg Kozol can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowKozol.