A St. Paul proposal would allow cannabis businesses throughout the city's commercial corridors, though retailers would be prohibited within 300 feet of a school.

Cities across Minnesota are mulling where to allow dispensaries and other businesses before the state's legal marijuana market launch next year. St. Paul planners were among the first to release their official pitch for how to integrate the 16 types of cannabis licenses created by the state into city zoning code.

The state allows cities to ban cannabis businesses within 1,000 feet of a school and 500 feet of day cares, residential treatment facilities and parks. But in St. Paul, those maximum distance requirements would restrict cannabis businesses in more than half of the city's retail parcels, according to city planners.

"We wanted to create an environment where these businesses could be established, but also have some protections in the zoning," senior planner Tony Johnson said in a presentation to the Planning Commission last week.

Under staff's recommendation, cannabis retailers, cultivators and product manufacturers with up to 15,000 square feet would be allowed in most commercial corridors, while larger businesses would be limited to areas zoned for greenhouse and industrial uses.

Staff compared their proposed rules for cannabis cultivators to those for craft brewers. Small breweries with taprooms are allowed in traditional neighborhood districts, but larger producers are restricted to industrial areas.

Johnson said staff researched 29 cities that previously legalized cannabis to inform their recommendations. The 300-foot buffer around school would align with the city's rule for liquor stores and would not apply to downtown.

Some members of the Planning Commission expressed concerns that the proposal does not do enough to keep young people from obtaining cannabis. Staff's memo said potential negative impacts can be limited by other local and state ordinances, including the city's public smoking restrictions and the state ban on outdoor advertising.

"To treat them like liquor stores, I think, makes sense," said Jason Tarasek, a Minnesota cannabis attorney with Vicente LLP. "I think we'll see that this is nothing to be afraid of — that none of these highly regulated businesses have any interest in selling to children and risking a license that is going to potentially be worth millions of dollars."

The cannabis industry is leery of local governments after some Minnesota cities restricted lower-potency hemp sales, said Carol Moss, an attorney who represents Minnesota cannabis businesses. Some of Moss' clients don't want to sign leases on commercial space until they can be assured that the zoning will let them operate, she said.

"Some cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis, they have not been adversarial to these businesses yet," she said. "What I have seen is the more conservative politically the city is, the more adversarial they are to this industry."

The St. Paul Planning Commission will hold a June 7 public hearing on the proposed changes, with the goal of having final rules approved by the City Council in August. Minneapolis is also aiming to adopt regulations this summer so that potential businesses can start exploring locations, senior city planner Sara Roman said.

As in St. Paul, city staff are looking to integrate the new cannabis licenses into Minneapolis' existing zoning code.

Kyle Hartnett, assistant research manager for the League of Minnesota Cities, said many local governments are waiting for guidance from the state Office of Cannabis Management (OCM), which was directed by the Legislature to establish a model zoning ordinance for cities.

"I think the big thing that I've been stressing to cities is just start thinking about where they might want these kind of businesses and where they might fit within their communities," Hartnett said.

Once the state starts distributing licenses, local governments will also be required to register cannabis businesses and check that retailers are complying with the law.