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Budding Dispensary Owners Running Into Problem With Tulsa's Spacing Requirement

Whitney Bryen-Oklahoma Watch

There’s a common problem facing Tulsa’s would-be marijuana dispensary owners.

They generally need to get a certificate of occupancy from the city permit office before they can be licensed by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, but the certificate can be derailed if one has been issued to another dispensary within 1,000 feet, even if that dispensary never opened or has gone out of business. In some cases, that’s happened after people sink money into required renovations to meet building codes and other standards.

While denials can be appealed to the Tulsa Board of Adjustment, the board usually bases its decision on the 1,000-foot spacing requirement, which it determines by looking at certificates of occupancy. Board member Burlinda Radney said that’s an issue.

"It has always given me pause to fall back on the certificate of occupancy for exactly this reason that we’re talking about now, because an existing business, to me, is a business that can perform a transaction that is a legal use, which you can’t do without the OMMA license and a certificate of occupancy at the same time," Radney said.

The Board of Adjustment has considered a slew of appeals since Tulsa's medical marijuana spacing requirements took effect in late 2018. Chair Austin Bond said they need to know if there are options other than deferring to the spacing requirement, which is the basis of most appeals.

"People do spend their life savings setting these things up. Rightly or wrongly, they don’t do the homework or they’re just completely confused. And so, for us, are we going to grant them relief?" Bond said. "Are we going to say, 'Well, someone just down the road from you had this certificate of occupancy.' They never used it or they don’t use it now. Is that going to be enough for us to say, 'You can’t open'?"

Certificates of occupancy are tied to buildings, not applicants or businesses, and city permit staff don’t know whether they can rescind one if a business is not active.

It’s currently up to applicants to provide proof from OMMA there is not another licensed dispensary within 1,000 feet of their planned location.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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