Today’s MMJ Dispensaries Tomorrow’s Pot Sellers

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Maryland — Applications for licenses to operate 15 medical cannabis growing facilities, 15 processing plants and 109 dispensaries in the state of Maryland will begin in the next few weeks. The citizens of Baltimore County, and residents throughout Maryland, are relying on their county council members and county commissioners to serve them well when it comes to the location of these medical cannabis facilities.

While the General Assembly has only legalized medical marijuana, which is a decision I wholeheartedly support, local government cannot be so short sighted as to just focus on today and ignore tomorrow.

The point in the implementation of Maryland’s medical cannabis laws has arrived where council members and commissioners must exercise county government’s long standing authority on land use matters. As the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission Executive Director Hannah L. Byron confirmed at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Summer Conference, these businesses must comply with local zoning regulations.

A fundamental rule of zoning dictates that if something is not explicitly in the zoning regulations then it is not in the zoning regulations. Currently medical cannabis is not specifically mentioned in Baltimore County law. By authoring legislation regarding medical marijuana, my goal is to provide clarity for both investors in medical cannabis facilities and citizens who want to ensure that these new growing, processing and dispensing businesses will locate in areas acceptable to the community.

The alternative is to rely on bureaucratic or judicial interpretations of existing zoning laws. This is a recipe for confusion and uncertainty. Handling this process through already existing zoning laws lacks transparency and would be rightly perceived as arbitrary. In my opinion, this would both negatively impact the medical cannabis industry and the communities in which these businesses intend to serve.

Further, Marylanders do not expect county government to put its head in the sand and ignore what likely comes next. The examples of Colorado and Oregon, combined with statements by members of the state legislature make it clear that sometime in the next “year or two” legislation for the legalization of recreational marijuana is a real possibility in Maryland.

If this happens, the likely first locations growing and selling recreational marijuana will be the existing medical cannabis growers and dispensaries. Therefore, my constituents will rightly expect me to take this into consideration when legislating the zoning of these facilities.

Just as Maryland’s medical cannabis laws were amended and changed by the General Assembly in 2013, 2014 and 2015, I am certain that the legislation that I have proposed in Baltimore County will be amended and changed as circumstances dictate over the next month and in the coming years. However, I am not afraid to take on this legislative challenge.

I am proud that my bill has generated public discussion which has brought much needed attention to this important subject. I pledge to work with my colleagues on the County Council to create the best policies for Baltimore County based on the Maryland laws that exist today and the potential realities of the near future.

Based on my discussions at the MACo Summer Conference, I am confident that county government throughout Maryland will meet the new challenge of medical cannabis and whatever lies in our state’s future. I request that the members of the General Assembly respect the role of county government as we begin to grapple with medical cannabis and the specter of recreational marijuana.

Appropriate zoning laws strengthen Baltimore County as a place where people want to live, work, raise a family and invest. Placing explicit zoning for medical cannabis facilities in the zoning regulations provides clarity and transparency for both investors and citizens. I have every confidence that my colleagues in county government will do what is best for their jurisdictions. That is precisely what I intend to do for Baltimore County.

Vicki Almond is a member of the Baltimore County Council and serves as the president of the Women of MACo. This submission represents her personal views and not those of any organization.

Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)