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Baltimore City Council weighs concerns about cannabis dispensaries

Hampden and Wyman Park residents took their concerns about a proposed medical cannabis dispensary to City Hall on Wednesday, as Baltimore City Council members weigh whether to put zoning restrictions on the businesses.

In Baltimore — as well as other jurisdictions — some residents have been surprised to learn about proposals for the dispensaries. Just one dispensary in the state has earned a final state license, but dozens more across the state have preliminary licenses they hope to finalize in the coming months.

Some jurisdictions, including Baltimore County, have passed zoning laws restricting where cannabis dispensaries can be located and how far they can be from schools.

Geoff Veale, the city zoning administrator, told members of the council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee that Baltimore officials classify cannabis dispensaries as a “retail goods establishment” and they are allowed in any commercial zone.

Residents have raised concerns about a dispensary proposed for Keswick Road, and the neighborhood associations and dispensary owner are working on a legal agreement about the business’ operations.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who is helping broker the agreement, said she’s not sure whether the council needs to pass separate zoning restrictions for dispensaries. It’s something that council members will have to weigh, she said in an interview.

During a two-hour hearing on dispensaries, Clarke said a key issue is that these cannabis dispensaries are taking residents by surprise.

“People want to have a chance to know before it’s a done deal,” Clarke said.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young suggested it might be a good idea to require dispensary owners to meet with the community before receiving occupancy permits from the city.

Neighbors of the Keswick Road dispensary raised issues about safety and odors from the business.

Chris Carper, who lives around the corner, said he supports making medical marijuana available to patients, but that Keswick Road is the wrong location for it. He ticked off a list of nearby playgrounds, schools and churches and noted that the famous holiday lights on 34th Street are nearby, too.

“Cash and drugs attract the wrong people and I don’t want them in my neighborhood,” he said.

Jack Boyson, president of the Wyman Park Community Association, said the council should review how far cannabis dispensaries should be allowed from schools, parks, churches and other dispensaries.

Patrick Jameson, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, said dispensaries are “tightly regulated” and required to have numerous security measures including 24-hour video surveillance and locked storage for the cannabis, which patients cannot access themselves.

Darrell Carrington from Greenwill Consulting, which advises cannabis companies, said they’ve already “had to jump through enormous hoops” and cautioned council members against adding more.

“This industry is more heavily regulated than any industry in Maryland,” he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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