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Baltimore County marijuana zoning bill to be watered down

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The sponsor of a Baltimore County measure that would impose zoning limitations on medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities said she will soften part of the bill that met with stiff criticism from supporters of the state program.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Democratic Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond said the amendments will allow for dispensary and growing facilities to be located in the county while still allowing the council to have a say on locations.

“None of these uses is currently listed in the county zoning regulations, so they are not permitted,” Almond told the council Tuesday and added that “the location of these uses falls squarely within the jurisdiction of the county council, and that such location should be determined by legislative policy.”

The bill is believed to be the first of its kind in Maryland. A number of counties and municipalities are grappling with the new medical marijuana regulations and how the new facilities, which could be licensed and open by next year, fit within zoning laws.

Some influential state legislators have warned they would not tolerate zoning restrictions that would essentially block the marijuana facilities from being opened.

But officials with the state commission overseeing the program said that while local zoning approval could be part of an approval process for licenses, the commission will not involve itself with local zoning matters.

Almond’s amendments include:

  • Striking a requirement that dispensing facilities be paired with a hospital or other medical facility.
  • Decreasing the 1,000-foot limitation on where dispensaries can be located to 500 feet from any public or private elementary, middle or high school or other licensed dispensary. Almond called the original restriction in her bill “arbitrary.”
  • Growing facilities will be restricted to manufacturing zones and be allowed by right.

Almond added that she would be willing to consider allowing mixed-use zoning for facilities that have both a growing and dispensing license. State regulations will allow for growers to also become licensed dispensaries.

A final vote on Almond’s measure is expected to come on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

One possible amendment could add some rural zones in the county to the list of areas where growing facilities could be located.

Councilman A. Wade Kach, a Republican who represents most of northern Baltimore County and a majority of the county’s farming community, said he would like to open up some areas for such uses.

Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County and a lead sponsor on the state’s medical marijuana effort, was a vocal opponent to Almond’s bill as introduced. On Tuesday he said the proposed amendments improved the bill.

A spokesman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz joined Morhaim in backing off concerns about the bill.

“The administration still feels you could accomplish this through existing law but it’s clear that the council took its legislative responsibility seriously in the discussion of these amendments, said Don Mohler, a Kamenetz spokesman.

Mohler said the goal is to make it easy for patients who need access to the drug to get it in Baltimore County.

“It looks as if the council is moving in that direction and that’s a good thing,” Mohler said.

A number of council members, including Almond, expressed an interest in setting zoning regulations now in advance of what they say is an inevitable march to legalized marijuana that will follow the medical cannabis businesses.

“Medical marijuana is here,” said Democratic Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins. “Our job is to decide where it is going to go.”

Democratic Councilman Julian Jones, who represents a minority-majority district, said his constituents view this as similar in many ways to the liquor licenses that have been rejected for the Liberty Road area in the past and have concerns that the medical marijuana dispensary of today will morph into something else later.

“They don’t want any liquor stores, and they don’t want any recreational marijuana dispensaries,” said Jones.