The Baltimore County Council has set the zoning rules that will govern where medical marijuana businesses can open in the county.
The unanimous passage of Councilwoman Vicki Almond's bill makes Baltimore County the first jurisdiction to tackle zoning issues surrounding medical marijuana, in advance of the state issuing licenses to growers, processors and dispensaries.
Medical marijuana growing and processing facilities will be allowed in industrial districts, although in the Chesapeake Enterprise Zone – a commercial and industrial district in the eastern part of the county – a grower must obtain approval of a special exception, which can be granted by an administrative judge after a public hearing.
The growing and processing facilities also would be allowed in certain rural zones. In the agricultural zone, the facilities would be allowed without extra approval. In the resource preservation and environmental enhancement zones, the facilities would be allowed with a special exception.
Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in business districts, provided they are 500 feet away from schools and 2,500 feet from one another. However, to locate in one of the county's commercial revitalization districts, the business must get a special exception. The county's 17 commercial revitalization districts are located in older commercial districts where the county is trying to spur improvements and new businesses.
Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, praised her fellow council members for working on the bill in a "thoughtful and nonpartisan spirit."
"This council is to be commended for doing what is was elected to do, and in my opinion, doing it very well under difficult circumstances that have been thrust on us by forces outside of our control," she said.
Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, co-sponsored some of the changes that require the special exception approval. He noted that the county is wading into "unknown territory."
"We really don't know if medical cannabis dispensaries, depending on where they are based, will be good for communities," he said. "We don't know if medical cannabis dispensaries will be the de facto dispensaries for recreational cannabis — should that be legalized."
Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, noted he sponsored a bill to legalize medical marijuana back in 1980 when he was a state delegate.
"Finally, in Baltimore County, in the state of Maryland, we're finally going to have marijuana available to people who are sick," he said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has said he doesn't believe the zoning bill is necessary, but has praised the council "for taking its responsibility very seriously."