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Editorial: No need for reefer madness

Local government officials across Maryland are now discussing where to allow marijuana growing and dispensing facilities in their communities. So far, much of this discussion has centered on whether – and how – to use zoning rules to determine where these facilities can operate.

In Anne Arundel County, Steven Schuh, the county executive, initially took this a step further, proposing an outright ban on cannabis production and dispensing shops. He has watered down that proposal, presumably after it was pointed out to him via an advisory opinion from the state attorney general that such a de-facto ban would be illegal.

Baltimore County went through this exercise last month, amending the county’s zoning rules to allow marijuana growing and processing operations in industrial districts and certain agricultural areas. Dispensing facilities can’t be within 500 feet of schools, and no two facilities can be within 2,500 feet of each other.

Officials in other counties have been watching this play out with understandable interest.

Maryland is not the first state to go through this process, although the scope of legal marijuana use ranges widely, from medicinal purposes only to recreational use. As one might expect, the degree of local regulation also has varied. Initial regulatory efforts, such as in Fresno, California, took the form of moratoriums as local officials sought to buy some time to figure out what rules ought to be in place. Officials elsewhere, as have some in Maryland, also expressed concern that what starts out as a dispensing operation for medical marijuana use ultimately morphs into a retail outlet for recreational users.

We believe that local government officials have every right to be concerned about local land uses. And community residents – the people who live in those neighborhoods, pay taxes and send their kids to neighborhood schools – should have a voice in what goes up next door. But the reality is that local zoning ordinances and master plans already are quite well-equipped to deal with this issue. These ordinances address issues of traffic impact, compatibility, the need for variances and the like. They would block marijuana facilities from residentially-zoned areas.

In Oregon, dispensaries can only be in areas zoned for commercial, industrial or mixed use, or as agricultural land. In that state, some local governments have enacted additional restrictions, but for the most part the basic architecture of the state policy is what is in place.

We also wonder why there seems to be such a mistrust and distaste for cannabis dispensing facilities. After all, the driving force behind the legalization of medical marijuana in Maryland was a mountain of evidence that cannabis can ease the suffering and discomfort that many endure for a variety of medical conditions. Isn’t it a good thing that dispensing facilities would be accessible to the people who benefit from this medication?

We would urge local government officials to approach the zoning issue calmly and with discretion. A wholesale rewrite of zoning laws – particularly a rewrite that attempts to funnel these outlets into a tiny corner of a county – would be ill-advised if not illegal.