Prince George’s County Council members need to incorporate zoning legislation for legal medical marijuana businesses to operate — or state officials say they will do it for them.
Officials with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission briefed the county’s District Council on Nov. 16, to explain how the state’s new medical cannabis program may affect Prince George’s.
Debra Borden, principal counsel with the Park and Planning Commission, said up to 14 licenses could be granted to open a business in seven of the county’s senatorial districts.
“But we feel it would be much less” because the districts straddle into other counties, she said.
The state legislature legalized medical marijuana more than two years ago, and the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission began to accept applications in September.
By Nov. 24, the state commission received nearly 1,100 applications to seek a license as a grower, processor or dispenser. The majority of those submitted — 811 — were for dispenser licenses.
Approximately 110 dispensary applicants are requesting to open a medical marijuana establishment in the county’s seven senatorial districts, according to a state commission chart.
However, two of the counties districts share space in other jurisdictions. District 21 represents Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties and District 27 incorporates Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles counties.
State regulations will allow for 94 dispensaries, two per state Senate district, and 15 facilities to grow cannabis plants and turn them into medical products such as extracts, oils and pills.
The commission scheduled to grant preliminary approval in January, but that deadline will be pushed back because of the number of submissions received. Each applicant that gets a confirmation will have a year from the date of notification to complete all necessary steps to receive formal approval.
“We will … make an announcement regarding the amended schedule in the near future,” said Hannah Byron, the commission’s executive director.
On Nov. 16, Borden also explained to District Council, a legislative body comprising the County Council members who discuss projects on zoning and land use matters, the current zoning ordinance must be updated because it would prohibit medical cannabis operations. County officials are currently working to update and rewrite the zoning and subdivision regulations that haven’t been done in 50 years.
Because state law overrides local jurisdictions, the county must permit the use of a medical cannabis business.
“If no legislation is passed … you are running the risk that the state will do it for you,” Borden said. “If the state does it, [officials] are likely to do it with a very broad brush. They are not going to come into Prince George’s County and read our zoning ordinance and get schooled on that and try to figure it out.”
Because the state has written most of the regulations on the medical cannabis program such as hours of operation, she said, the county can draft legislation on the location of a business.
One suggestion is placing them near places such as a hospital, doctor’s office or a clinic.
Although President Barack Obama announced last year that financial institutions can accept funds for medical marijuana businesses, most banks still do not accept them because marijuana possession – even for medical purposes – remains a federal offense.
That means various medical marijuana dealers in states such as California operate as a cash-only business.
“It’s almost a frightening experience in terms of the cash flow,” said Councilman Obie Patterson (D-District 8) of Fort Washington. “Once the word gets out with the amount of money that’s going to be [transported] around, there will be folks who will not want these pickup trucks coming through their communities. I would put safety at the very top of my list.”
According to the state regulations, 24-hour video surveillance must be operated on the property.
In regards to the size of a building, the state rules don’t outline how big it must be to produce, grow, or dispense the medical products. However, a greenhouse used to cultivate medical marijuana must be surrounded by an 8-foot or higher chain-link fence topped with barbed wire less than 20 feet from the greenhouse.
Several council members asked how much money on medical marijuana would be made in state income versus the county.
Park and Planning officials said it’s unclear. However, the state medical cannabis rules dictate that proprietors seeking an application for a dispensary or processor must pay the state a $1,000 non-refundable fee; $2,000 for a grower application.
Because the council held its last legislative session Tuesday and meets once in December to elect a chair and vice chair, Councilwoman Dannielle Glaros (D-District 3) of Riverdale Park said the council should work on the medical cannabis legislation when next year’s session begins.
“We should move forward in the beginning of January to at least start the public conversation,” she said. “There will be a lot of input received on this legislation, and I want to make sure that we have the time to do it appropriately and do it well.”