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Medical marijuana dispensaries need to form bond with skeptical local communities like Pikesville

Barry Rascovar
Barry Rascovar

Coming to our slice of Baltimore County in the very near future: a medical cannabis (marijuana) dispensary.

It's been more than four years since the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill legalizing the sale of products for medical purposes made from cannabis. It is a proven pain-relief medication for individuals with extreme discomfort who have exhausted traditional opiate remedies and remain in excruciating discomfort.

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Yet a badly messed-up rollout by a state licensing commission has delayed Maryland's efforts to get this pain-relief alternative to patients with cancer and other severe, excruciating illnesses.

Only six dispensaries have been approved so far for the entire state out of 102 planned outlets. Disputes with communities are bogging down the process further.

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In Pikesville, residents protested last month to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals about a dispensary seeking to set up shop in an empty shopping strip at Naylors Lane and Reisterstown Road.

People living in the nearby Pomona community are on edge.

They fear a cannabis dispensary will attract unsavory sorts who will loiter, create traffic problems and commit crimes.

Yet there's little evidence to back up these fears.

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Contrary to public perception, cannabis dispensaries are more akin to pharmacies than opium dens.

A county administrative law judge examined the neighbors' complaints and found the dispensary, to be run by Temescal Wellness, would not harm the Pikesville community.

But even if the appeals board rejects Temescal's zoning request, all it would mean is a different location for the dispensary in the Pikesville-Owings Mills-Reisterstown area.

President Trump's decision to cut federal subsidies for the Affordable Care Act puts Gov. Hogan in a tight spot since he's running for re-election at the same time health care is on the front burner.

So far, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal cannabis. Five more states are voting on legalization a year from now. It is a $6.7 billion legal industry in North America that is expected to grow by 200 percent over the next three years.

Similar "not-in-my-neighborhood" disputes in northwest Baltimore County have flared in the past over methadone clinics and halfway houses. Sometimes zoning controversies involved relocation of mega-churches or vast expansions of existing houses of worship.

In an earlier dispute a decade ago involving a methadone clinic in Pikesville, a community leader conceded, "I know they have to be somewhere. But it was not something I wanted on the borders of my neighborhood."

The clinic faced a lengthy legal battle and eventually decided to close its Slade Avenue location and moved instead to Woodlawn.

Counties can set reasonable zoning restrictions on these types of enterprises, but they cannot outlaw them entirely.

Steve Schuh, the Anne Arundel County executive, tried to ban marijuana-growing facilities and dispensaries in his county but that was ruled illegal.

Shortly afterward, an Anne Arundel administrative hearing officer approved a dispensary on West Street in Annapolis, noting, "This is not pot; it is a medical product that has been stigmatized because it is made from a plant that people in the 20th and 21st centuries decided is dangerous."

In Baltimore City, a cannabis dispensary facing community opposition in Wyman Park agreed to a written memorandum of understanding in which it pledged to add security, lighting, employee training and packaging of the cannabis products.

Forming an amicable bond with surrounding businesses and residential groups seems the best way to avoid a prolonged and divisive struggle that does no one any good.

The actual sale of medical cannabis isn't likely to happen until after the start of the new year in January.

Even then, ongoing legal battles and zoning protests could further prevent seriously ill patients from gaining relief from these cannabis products in Maryland.

Barry Rascovar's blog is brascovar@hotmail.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.



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