Members of the Board of Carroll County Commissioners shared their concerns over regulating the sale of recreational cannabis, starting July 1, with state leaders Thursday.
“We can zone it, we can permit it‚” Commissioners’ President Ed Rothstein said. “But are we resourced within our sheriff’s department, and have legislation to govern it well enough to keep Carroll County safe, secure, and maintain it’s great quality of life that we want?”
Rothstein, who represents District 5, made his concerns known to Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, who also serves as president of the Maryland Association of Counties, along with the organization’s executive director, Michael Sanderson. The two attended the commissioner’s weekly meeting Thursday to discuss legislation passed by the General Assembly during this year’s session, and ahead of MACo’s summer conference in August.
The Maryland Association of Counties, known as MACo, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan statewide organization that advocates for county-level needs in the state legislature.
Recreational cannabis was one of the top pieces of legislation approved during the General Assembly session that ended April 10.
Maryland residents overwhelmingly approved a ballot referendum question to legalize the recreational use of cannabis during the 2022 general election, and state lawmakers established rules for recreational use.
“As you know the voters spoke about a constitutional amendment to change state laws on classifying cannabis as a controlled dangerous substance in the state,” Sanderson said. “The deadline is July 1, and that is when things shift. The way the legislature created the structure is they needed to pass implementation legislation this session. This was one of those ‘must pass’ bills.”
As of July 1, individuals 21 and older can legally use, possess and consume up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower, 12 grams of concentrated cannabis, or a total amount of cannabis products that does not exceed 750 mg of THC in Maryland. This amount is known as the “personal use amount.”
Medical marijuana businesses can begin converting their licenses to new medical and recreational cannabis licenses before July 1. That will be followed by a first round of new licenses for “social equity applicants” — those who have lived in or attended school in an area “disproportionally impacted” by cannabis criminalization — by Jan. 1. A second round of licenses will be granted after May 1, 2024, for any other applicants. Large portions of the revenue from a 9% sales tax on recreational cannabis will go to communities disproportionally affected by the war on drugs.
In April, commissioners voted to refer decisions about when, where, and how cannabis-related businesses can operate to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission.
The zoning commission is working on changes to the county’s zoning code to allow businesses with state licenses to sell recreational marijuana in the county and will present a proposal to the commissioners.
But the board said in April that the vote was made “under protest,” because commissioners did not support the legalization of marijuana.
“Another issue is that ingestion of cannabis is not just smoking,” Rothstein said. “It’s not just odor. It can be ingested in many different ways. So we’re focused on the odor of an issue, but there’s other issues associated with it.”
Sanderson said he predicted that state lawmakers will need to address this issue.
“I think there is a very high likelihood that that gets some refinement as soon as next year,” he said. “It’s going to go into law this year. ... It’s going to make practice more difficult for police officers and deputies for a while, but I think there’s a real opportunity for some refinement a year from now.”
Rothstein said there will be a lot of accidents and fatalities between now and then. “There shouldn’t be one,” he said.
According to a study by the Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs focused on data from 2009 to 2019, states that legalized marijuana and opened a retail market saw a 5.8% increase in injury crash rates and a 4.1% increase in fatal crash rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol-impaired drivers accounted for 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2020, a 14.3% increase from 2019.
Commissioner Joseph Vigliotti, who represents District 1, questioned whether there was any discussion on potency limits for marijuana that is sold in the county.
“Not just the forms that it is sold in, but it’s the potency and concentration levels of the THC in those forms in which they are being ingested,” he said.
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Vigliotti also questioned why counties were not given the option to allow dispensaries.
Ball said they did push the idea that local governments could opt out of selling recreational cannabis.
“We did advocate one of our top priorities this session,” he said. “Primarily on being able to potentially opt out, and revenue sharing. Because we’re concerned about some of these issues, and we’re the ones who are going to have to actually do the implementation.”
Carroll County’s current zoning code has regulations for businesses selling medical cannabis. The code states that such a business must be at least 400 feet from a residential district or a school, religious establishment or a hospital. It also cannot be located near farmland that totals less than 3 acres.
There are no marijuana dispensaries in the county’s jurisdiction. Two exist in the City of Westminster and have been selling cannabis products for medical use for several years.
Rothstein reminded everyone that the county has no choice but to deal with the new state law that will allow recreational use of marijuana.
“Like you said, the voters voted,” he said. “I’m not going to second guess that. It’s not about being a good idea or bad idea. That’s already been voted. It’s the governance. ... Regardless if I like it or not, the usage or the sales, that ship sailed, we’re down that path. We’re talking about a lot of bad things that can happen.”