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Farmers, others see growth in medical marijuana operations

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Some farmers and other investors are already lining up in the hopes of getting in on the ground floor of what they hope will be a growth industry in both growing and dispensing medical marijuana.

At least two farming operations in northern Baltimore County are calling on the County Council to amend a proposed law to allow the growing of medical cannabis in rural areas of the county. A lobbyist representing a group of investors interested in opening up a dispensary asked the county to further soften proposed restrictions on how close such facilities can be located near schools and residential areas.

Travis Radebaugh said he is interested in obtaining a license to operate a growing facility in a 10,000 square-foot steel facility on the grounds of the John H. Radebaugh Greenhouses in Freeland.

“Everything is in place, everything is there,” Radebaugh told the council Tuesday. “Looking at it from the outside, no one would even know.”

Radebaugh said he and his partner Kyle Izett have taken the step of partnering with an Arizona-based company that has experience in growing medical marijuana.

“By partnering with them, we’ll pretty much have a teacher, a guide,” said Radebaugh, who added that the Arizona company would also be a financial partner.

Radebaugh and other farmers in the county want the council to amend a proposed bill that would impose zoning restrictions on where such locations can operate.

Radebaugh has not yet started the process of applying for one of 15 growing licenses that will be available in the state. Applications are expected to be available later this year with the first licenses being issued as early as the middle of 2016.

State law for such facilities requires full security plans. Radebaugh said he and his partner could meet those requirements with his current buildings.

Under the bill proposed by Councilwoman Vicki Almond, growing operations would be restricted to manufacturing zones that are almost exclusively located in the most urbanized areas of the county. Rural areas, where zoning is more restrictive, comprise up a large swath of the county.

Ron Benefield, of Bluemount Farm, said such restrictions are unfair and make no sense.

“It’s just absurd for me to think (farmers) are not going to be the ones to have the first shot at this,’ Benefield said.

Councilman A. Wade Kach, a Republican who represents most of the rural conservation zoned property in the county, said he plans on offering an amendment to allow growing operations in some rural zones by special exemption — a process that would require public hearings before a county official.

“I see no reason why these growing facilities can’t be located and should be located in northern Baltimore County in (rural) areas by special exception,” Kach said. “That will give the people in northern Baltimore County a role in that decision.”

The Baltimore County Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a zoning bill that would restrict where medical marijuana-related facilities — growing, manufacturing, and dispensing operations — could locate in the county.

The bill is believed to be the first of its kind in Maryland at a time when number of local and municipal governments are examining the subject.

Almond, the sponsor of the bill, said she is open to other amendments before the final vote next week.

Philip Cronin, a lobbyist for Baltimore-based Harris Jones Malone, told the council that he represents a client who is interested in a dispensary license but is concerned that some proposed restrictions will make it difficult to locate the operation near potential customers.

Cronin asked the council to consider further relaxing the proposed standard to allow dispensaries to locate in business areas along major thoroughfares. Those roads typically front large residential areas in the county, and Cronin noted they would be off limits to medical marijuana dispensaries under the bill as currently proposed.

“From a business perspective, it would prevent the successful operation of a business and more importantly, we want it to be accessible for people who need it,” Cronin said.