Anne Arundel County Council passes controversial medical marijuana bill

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

The Anne Arundel County Council passed a controversial medical marijuana bill Monday night that loosens restrictions on medical marijuana projects throughout the county and includes special exemptions for sites within industrial districts like the proposed business on Generals Highway.

The legislation passed in a 5-2 vote with Councilman Pete Smith, D-Severn, and John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, voting against the bill.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, voted for the bill, but explained his vote. He supported the mission of Bill 77-18 — loosening restrictions for sites proposed north of Route 50 — but didn’t support a late exemption for projects in industrial districts.

“I lost the battle to protect against that amendment,” Trumbauer said. “But I do think it is an important step to open up (other areas in the county).

An amendment by Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, passed on Sept. 17 added an exemption for medical marijuana businesses within industrial districts. Those sites no longer have to meet distance setback requirements, a controversial decision angering some residents and businesses near the proposed site on Generals Highway. The original bill also exempted industrial district sites from meeting a requirement to build near highly trafficked roads.

It was anticipated the council would amend the bill Monday thus delaying the vote until Oct. 15, the last day the council can pass legislation. Anything not passed at that meeting would be considered defeated as old business can’t pass to a newly elected council.

Walker called for a five-minute recess after the room became aware a final vote was imminent.

“I think what is passed tonight was fair and everyone’s voice both pro and con was heard,” Walker said.

Bill 77-18 was originally heralded as a compromise to loosen zoning restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries built north of Route 50. It would have reduced residential and school building distance setback requirements from 1,000 to 750 feet.

But Walker’s amendment frustrated initial supporters of the bill. They called on the council to defeat the legislation Monday, saying the amended bill unfairly supported Kind Therapeutics USA, LLC’s proposed dispensary off Generals Highway. That site is located within an industrial district and needed several variances for distance requirements before approval. Variances are requests by businesses or homeowners to receive exemptions from county laws when they prove those rules are too onerous.

“The Walker amendment silences my right to speak,” said Ian Wilson, Annapolis resident. “This is not tipping the scales; this is doing away with them. It is a bad idea to open a dispensary behind the place I work. I will not be silenced. I am allowed to participate in the public process about where the dispensary is located.”

Walker and supporters have said the changes are about fairness and tweaking county rules that make it excessively challenging to open dispensaries.

Businesses trying to open dispensaries in Anne Arundel County north of Route 50 have found it difficult to find sites that meet all of the county’s requirements without variances. After several sites received variances, the council voted to bar granting variances to medical marijuana businesses.

The county’s rules are so restrictive that state lawmakers considered passing legislation that allowed dispensaries to leave their assigned senatorial districts. Medical marijuana businesses have to build within the senatorial districts assigned by the state.

In other business, the council discussed changes to the county ethics law. The legislation proposed by County Executive Steve Schuh tweaks county laws to bring it in line with the state. It also increases punishment for lobbyists and extends the county ethics law to cover board and commission members. That bill was amended and will be voted on at the Oct. 15 meeting.

The council also passed legislation restricting the location of plasma centers, state-licensed medical clinics and transitional housing. Those properties will now have to build a mile away from each other. Sponsors Grasso and Smith said the legislation prevents clustering those businesses together. The two proposed the bill after complaints about crime near those facilities.

Council also passed legislation allowing retired veterans receive a 15 percent reduction in their property taxes as long as they qualify. Retired veterans are eligible for this tax cut as long as they live in the county and their home is worth $500,000 or less. Eligible veterans can use the tax credit for five years and can’t combine the credit with any other tax credits. The bill passed 6-1, with County Council Chairman Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville, voting against the bill. He did so because he believed it to be unconstitutional because it created different classes of citizens.

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