By JAMES SWIFT
Earlier this month, the Adairsville City Council unanimously approved a resolution establishing an “emergency moratorium” on the operation of any new businesses “substantially engaged in the sale of low-THC oil, tobacco products, tobacco-related objects, alternative nicotine products, vapor products, cannabidiol (CBD) and products containing cannabidiol.”
According to legal counsel for the municipality, the moratorium will be in effect for 150 days, dating back to Sept. 12.
“The purpose behind this is there is a significant question in state law and federal law regarding the THC oil, CBD products and vaping-type products,” said attorney Bobby Walker. “The Federal Drug Administration, as we speak, is considering a potential ban of flavored oils for e-cigarettes, there’s been a number of state laws passed dealing with this … what this would do is place a moratorium on any new businesses opening that engage and sell in these types of materials, or rather, substantially engaged in selling this type of material.”
Walker said the moratorium does not apply to existing businesses that already sell such products within the City limits. Nor does the moratorium, hypothetically, bar local licensed pharmacies from dispensing medical marijuana, he added.
“The only effect that it would have on existing business would be that they can’t expand their footprint during the period of the moratorium of these types of products,” Walker said.
The moratorium, he said, gives the City ample time to “investigate what type of ordinances may be appropriate to further regulate these things in the future, as they are not terribly regulated at all at this point.”
Attorney Brandon Bowen gave a few more details on a proposed City ordinance on the matter at an Adairsville Unified Zoning Board (UZB) meeting held Sept. 16.
“Basically, there’s a lot of confusion right now, when it comes down to it,” he said. “Staff requested that we look at what we can do in the City ordinance to limit new uses that are really specializing in that.”
Right now, he said the City is mulling an ordinance amendment that would only allow “vapor shops” as special-use businesses in the municipality’s C-2 commercial districts. Before any new businesses of the like could open, he said the applicants would have to come before the UZB and the city council to plead their cases.
Bowen, however, acknowledged the the proverbial “devil was in the details” when it comes to legally outlining what a “vapor shop” actually is.
“In this ordinance, the way I have drafted it is defined as ‘a retail store that is selling more than 10% of its retail product is one of the things that goes along with vapor shops,’” he said. “That includes CBD oil, cannabis oil, vapor products as defined by state law — which is like the Juuls and things of that nature.”
The proposed ordinance, he added, also applies to tobacco products. “So this will hit a cigar shop, for instance,” Bowen said.
Bowen acknowledged the proposed ordinance language may be too broad for some’s liking.
“The way I look at it, they’re all kind of similar uses, and we’re not saying you can’t do it,” he said. “We’re just saying you have to get a special-use permit … it doesn’t mean you can’t sell cigarettes or vapor stuff or CBD, to the extent it’s lawful. But if your business is going to spend more than 10% of its business activity on those products, then you would require a special-use permit.”
At this point, there is no timetable in place for when an official ordinance amendment may go before the council. Yet as federal and state government continues to clamp down on rules, regulations and restrictions for such products, Bowen said it never hurts for local governments to be proactive.
“The federal government is recommending that flavored vape products be banned outright,” he said. “So your vape products would have to be tobacco-flavored, not pina colada or whatever.”
Continuing, Bowen said Adairsville’s proposed ordinance actually defines such businesses four different ways, impacting stores and shops whose retail stock is comprised of at least 10% of the aforementioned products.
The way the proposed language is stated, the ordinance also applies to businesses for which those types of products make up 10% or more of their gross daily sales, 10% or more of the retail value of their current stock or 10% or more of their business floor area.
“In other words, it’s going to be difficult to get around this,” he said. “If you’re going to sell a bunch of this, you’re going to be subject to this ordinance.”