The Boonville City Council and members of the Planning and Zoning Board informally agreed to govern potential marijuana growing facilities like any industrial manufacturer, and dispensaries like stores that sell liquor.

The two groups came to the informal plan at the end of the council meeting Monday evening. The zoning board and council still have to vote to formally approve the rules.

Medical marijuana will mainly be regulated by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, but cities can set zoning requirements, hours of operation and buffer distances up to 1,000 feet between schools and churches.

The proposed rules would zone growing and manufacturing facilities as Central Commercial District (C-2), like most other manufacturing in Boonville. Most of the city’s C-2 zones are centered around Ashley Road, B Highway and the waterfront.

Dispensaries, which are more likely to open in cities larger than Boonville, would be regulated similarly to liquor stores. They would have Local Commercial District zoning (C-1) and have to be at least 100 feet away from schools and churches. Dispensaries could only be open from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday.

Chris Martin, who owns buildings that growers are interested in, told the council that nobody is looking at Boonville for a dispensary. They’d rather be in Columbia, or somewhere else with a larger population, he said.

“They do like our facilities here in Boonville for the fact that it’s quiet, low-key, it’s a great place to grow the product,” he said.

Columbia architect Eric Westhues represents several clients looking to set up a growing operation in one of Boonville’s vacant industrial buildings. The growing operation could also include manufacturing under the same roof, where the marijuana plants are processed into THC-infused products, he said.

People would not be able to tell from the outside that the facility is growing marijuana, and his clients plan to have several security measures, including razor wire fences and controlled access gates, he told the council and board in a work session before the regular council meeting on Monday.

The state will pick the top 60 applicants for growing permits, so only the very best applicants have a shot, Westhues said. The clients are not going to cut corners, he said. They want to use the best practices and best equipment to get the largest return on their investment. Martin wants financially viable tenants, he said. One group he’s working with is publicly traded in Canada, where marijuana is fully legal, and others have private equity funding, he said.

The buildings are attractive to potential investors, because they don’t want to construct a new facility, Westhues said. If permits are issued next January, they’d have to wait until the spring to even start building, and nobody wants to wait any longer than they have to before they start earning money.

While Boonville is an attractive location to producers, there are a lot of communities who want to bring in operations, Martin said. The city needs to establish regulations soon so people can list a Boonville address on their license application to the state, he said.

The growing facility is an extremely controlled environment. Growers keep the growing rooms at the precise temperature and level of humidity that encourage the plant to grow faster at every stage of its growth, Westhues said.

The grow rooms are like walk-in freezers, separate and insulated from the rest of the building, he said. Each grow room also has its own air filtration system. Air brought into the rooms is filtered to keep pollen and mold from contaminating the crop, and air going outside is also filtered, he said.

Mayor Ned Beach said his concern was the air output and whether the city should require a buffer zone around growing facilities. Board member Joe Novy said Westhues’ description sounded like a cleanroom in pharmaceutical manufacturing. If the grow room system is similar to a cleanroom, the air output would be safe, Novy said.

The council and board considered a special use permit, which would have required the applicant to submit their building plans to the zoning board and council for approval. The council decided against it, because new construction would have to go through the process anyway, and someone moving into a building will need a permit to renovate it.

“Just another business coming to town,” Third Ward Councilman Whitney Venable said.

While manufacturers would be treated like any other manufacturer, medical marijuana dispensaries would be treated like stores that sell liquor. Only about 2 percent of the state’s population will qualify for medical marijuana, to the number of people who would want to come to a dispensary in Boonville would be small. The dispensaries are also strictly controlled. Only one patient is allowed in the dispensary at a time, after they’ve had their credentials checked.

Boonville Police Chief Bobby Welliver said he wasn’t too concerned with manufacturing, but he believes the state is going to pass the responsibility of enforcing medical marijuana regulations down to local law enforcement.

“There’s gonna be some cost to the city, you can count on that,” Welliver said. “Now, how much revenue we’re gonna get to cover that, I don’t know.”

There is going to be illegal activity surrounding legal marijuana, and Boonville Police will have to deal with that, he said. Someone is going to illegally sell marijuana they either bought or grew legally, or abuse the system in another way. The state is going to make a lot of money off of medical marijuana, but they’re not going to give it to local law enforcement, he said.

“The state needs to be addressing that issue,” he said. “When I called, they pretty much said, ‘Tough luck, you’re on your own, Jack.’”

bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com