The Mexico City Council approved an ordinance Monday establishing from which zones medical marijuana businesses can operate.

The Mexico Planning and Zoning Commission met April 2 to discuss its recommendations to the council for establishing operational zones for medical marijuana facilities, which were legalized by the passage of Amendment 2 in November, said City Manager Bruce Slagle. The city has received two inquiries about dispensaries and three about cultivation operations.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, as of April 25, has received nearly 500 pre-filed applications for cultivation, dispensary or medical-marijuana infused manufacturing facilities. Thirty-one of the dispensary applications are for Missouri’s fourth congressional district, which includes Audrain County. The application period officially opens June 4 and goes until Dec. 31. Applications for patient and caregiver cards will start July 4. Pre-filed applications include a non-refundable fee that has already brought in $3.5 million.

State law presents an interesting quandary for municipalities, Slagle said. “There are a lot of things (the state) hasn’t figured out yet, and when talking with other states, there are a lot of issues that go with this,” he said.

Dispensaries and other medical marijuana facilities have to operate as a cash business, since marijuana growing and use is still against federal law. So the businesses have to essentially launder the money so it can be deposited into banks, because it otherwise could be seized by federal authorities, Slagle said.

“February 2019, city staff participated in a webinar entitled ‘Medical Marijuana and Amendment 2: Implications for Municipalities,’ which was presented by the Missouri Municipal League,” said Community Development Director Rita Jackson.

Cities cannot prohibit these business operations from entering a community per state law, but restrictions may be placed on the time, place and manner in which they operate, she said. Planning and Zoning recommended the council follow state recommendations of operating 1,000-foot buffer from schools, day care facilities or churches. Jackson said the buffer would extend building-to-building. The council had the option to increase or decrease the buffer zone or add facilities like parks and playgrounds to the buffer requirements.

The commission recommended dispensaries operate in C-2 zones, general commercial district zones. Cultivation, testing and infused product facilities should operate in I-2, heavy industrial district zones.

The council held two readings of the ordinance by title before approving it as written. Council members Steve Nichols and Chrill Miller were not present Monday, so the council could still amend the ordinance at a later meeting to add parks and playgrounds to the required buffer zones.