UPPER MARLBORO – After rolling the legislation around for more than two months, the county council has agreed on regulations for medical marijuana growers and sellers in Prince George’s County. CB 5-2016, which amends the zoning ordinance to specify where medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and processors can locate in the county, was approved by the […]
UPPER MARLBORO – After rolling the legislation around for more than two months, the county council has agreed on regulations for medical marijuana growers and sellers in Prince George’s County.
CB 5-2016, which amends the zoning ordinance to specify where medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and processors can locate in the county, was approved by the county council in a 8-0 vote after it had sat in the planning, zoning and economic development committee for two months and undergone significant changes to become less restrictive. The measure went into effect on the date of adoption, May 31.
Although all of the council members present voted for the measure, which was introduced by Councilmembers Andrea Harrison, Dannielle Glaros, Derrick Davis, Mary Lehman and Deni Taveras, not all of them were enthusiastic about doing so.
Councilman Todd Turner said, “In explaining my vote, I will say this is a requirement of state law.”
In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed the first medical marijuana law in the state, and the next year created a more wide-reaching program. Because state law supersedes county law, Prince George’s County cannot prohibit medical marijuana sales or growth, which is what critics and many county staff members believed the first version of CB 5-2016 would have done.
The version that passed was drafted by Taveras, and she said it represents a compromise on the issue.
“This is much milder. I think it’s going to provide us some of the best locations possible, all things considered, and we all had to compromise. We were all able to work together as a team to be able to bring something to the table that will benefit everybody,” she said.
A dispensary, which is a facility licensed by the state to sell medical marijuana and marijuana products, is permitted in the commercial office, commercial shopping center, mixed-use infill and mixed-use transportation-oriented zones as a special exception. That designation means the application would receive extra scrutiny by the zoning hearing examiner and District Council and be required to undergo a public hearing. The law itself also specifies that the dispensary must be located within 500 feet of a medical facility, such as a doctor’s office and, in the mixed-use zones, within one-half of a mile of a Metro station. In all of those zones, the dispensary cannot be within 500 feet of Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission land, any school or residential-zoned areas, and must additionally be at least one mile from another dispensary.
“It’s not just anywhere. It is where there are medical facilities where there are medical professionals to prescribe it. That creates a synergy,” Taveras said.
Growers and processors are permitted to operate in the open space (O-S), planned industrial/employment park and light industrial zones only. In the O-S zone, the lot must be a minimum of 10 acres, and cultivation is the only marijuana-related activity that can take place outdoors. Any growing must take place 100 feet from the property line or the street.
In the industrial zones, all activity – including cultivation – must take place inside a fully-enclosed building.
Both dispensaries and growers are prohibited from advertising cannabis or cannabis products and limited to only building-mounted signs.
Stipulations about security, lighting, safes and other aspects of the business were removed from the proposal because of a lack of relevance to zoning or preemption by state law, which includes strict requirements as part of its licensing process.
“We also made sure to use the same terminology as the state,” Taveras said. “I think it was just much better written to meet all the state legislation and what we could do (legally).”
Taveras said residents in her district, District 2, are supportive of medical marijuana use. The city council of Hyattsville already had an interested business approach them about setting up a dispensary in town, if they are granted one of the state licenses.
She also supports medical marijuana because it will be a business opportunity and provide pain relief for citizens who need it.
“It’s an opportunity for economic development. It’s an opportunity for us to be able to bring actual medicine to people that need it, versus opioids and other alternatives,” she said.
Taveras said Maryland is currently experiencing an epidemic of opioid pain medication addiction and overdose deaths.
“I’m someone who’s never used, but I have to trust what the doctors are saying. This is actually a way to bring healing to some people and mitigate their symptoms,” Taveras continued.
With this legislation now in force, the county is ready for the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to issue its permits for dispensaries, growers and processors. Only two dispensary licenses will be issued in each senatorial district and only 15 growers total state-wide. At its May meeting, the commission also voted to reduce the number of processors (those who can turn the raw marijuana plant into other products like oils) to 15, at the suggestion of Prince George’s County resident and Cheverly Police Chief Harry Robshaw III.
Originally expected by this summer, the licenses may not be issued until several weeks after a July deadline for scoring the applications. The timeline has been extended several times due to the high volume of applications submitted; 146 growers and 124 processors applied. In the senatorial districts located completely within Prince George’s County, a total of 89 dispensary applications were submitted, including some applicants who applied in multiple districts.
Taveras said she wants the licenses to be awarded soon.
“I’m hopeful the state is able to issue these licenses so we can move forward with getting these set up,” she said.