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City commission approves first step in bringing medicinal marijuana to Douglas, GFL to increase trash rates (with video)

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Featured From left: Commissioners Kentaiwon Durham, Mike Gowen, Olivia Pearson, and Mayor Tony Paulk Robert Preston Jr./DouglasNow.com From left: Commissioners Kentaiwon Durham, Mike Gowen, Olivia Pearson, and Mayor Tony Paulk

Medicinal marijuana is coming to Douglas.



At Monday night's city commission meeting, commissioners approved variances for three local pharmacies that would allow them to fill prescriptions for medicinal marijuana/cannabis products. State law allows these medications for certain illnesses; however, there are restrictions regarding the location of pharmacies filling these prescriptions.



State law stipulates that such pharmacies cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a church/house of worship or covered entity (school, daycare center, after-school program, etc.). If the pharmacies are within 1,000 feet of these facilities, they can seek a variance from the municipal government that would free them from the restrictions.



Owners of three pharmacies -- the two Medicine Cabinet locations (West Baker Highway and West Ashley Street) and McRae's Pharmacy (West Ward Street) -- submitted requests for variances so they can fill medical cannabis prescriptions. The commission ultimately granted the variances in a 5-1 vote though there was much discussion. A video embedded at the end of this story shows the commissioners' discussions of these agenda items during the work session.




During the regular meeting, the commission conducted public hearings for all three variance requests. No one spoke for or against the variances. When the time came for the vote, Commissioner Kentaiwon Durham made the motion to grant the variances. Commissioner Cindy McNeill seconded. Five commissioners -- Durham, McNeill, Steve Bailey, Mike Gowen, and Ed Taylor -- voted in favor of the motion. Commissioner Olivia Pearson voted against it. 



The other big item on the agenda involved a proposed rate increase for trash collection in the city from GFL. According to GFL's contract, the company has the right to raise rates according to the consumer price index (CPI) as figured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure comes to 5.8 percent and, as such, GFL plans to raise the rate it charges the city by that amount beginning January 1, 2024. The total cost to the city if GFL does this is approximately $125,000. The commission had to decide how it would recoup that $125,000. If commissioners decided to pass that increase on to residents, their bills would increase by about 87 cents per month.




Chad Edwards, GFL district manager, and Mike Taft, Douglas transfer station manager, were at the meeting and fielded questions and comments from commissioners regarding trash collection in the city. Commissioners told them that they often received complaints about trash collection. After a lengthy discussion covering the problems citizens have had with trash pick-up, commissioners moved on to how the city would cover the rate increase.



At first, commissioners seemed to be discussing whether or not they would approve the rate increase. "I'm not approving an increase for anything unless service improves," stated Commissioner Olivia Pearson. However, the discussion was not about approving the increase. "They can increase their rates by what the CPI allows without having the commission's approval. You're voting on if you want to pass the increase on to customers or take it out of the gas fund or the utility fund or wherever. The increase is coming. It's just how you want to make it up," said City Manager Charlie Davis.



Edwards did not say definitively how much they would increase the rates. Given the comments they received from commissioners, they said they would discuss this further with their corporate officials. 



Commissioners decided to table the item until a later meeting. They wanted to wait until GFL decided they were going to do. Tuesday, Edwards informed Davis that GFL was going to increase the rate by the original 5.8 percent; however, the increase would begin in February instead of January. At a later meeting, the commission will have to decide whether they will add .87 to each customer’s monthly bill or make up the difference elsewhere.



The commission also held a public hearing for and subsequently approved the alcoholic beverage license for Publix. The grocer plans to sell beer and wine at its as-yet unopened Douglas location. Commissioners approved the license unanimously. Publix is set to open in mid-January.



These weren’t the only public hearings the city held Monday night. Commissioners had a resolution from the Downtown Development Authority to adjust the boundaries of the downtown development district and Main Street. The proposed changes would shrink the district into more of the area that people traditionally think of as downtown. No one spoke for or against the resolution during the public hearing. Commissioner Gowen made the motion to approve the new district lines and Commissioner McNeill made the second. It passed with a 5-1 vote; once again, Commissioner Pearson voted against the motion.



Other agenda items commissioners approved included a change order for the Historic Preservation Fund Grant for the HP design guidelines; paperwork for the Public Safety and Community Violence Reduction Grant for the police department; a pole attachment agreement between the city and Satilla EMC; and a date change (December 18) for the second meeting in December.


Robert Preston Jr./DouglasNow.com
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