Medical marijuana dispensaries might be allowed in Carroll's commercial districts soon

Medical marijuana dispensaries, similar to pharmacies, may be allowed in commercial zones in Carroll County in the future, bringing the county in line with other jurisdictions across the state.

As the Board of County Commissioners and Department of Planning near the end of comprehensive rezoning for the industrial, commercial and employment campus zones in the county, the discussion Tuesday turned to medical cannabis.


Comprehensive Planner Mary Lane explained to the commissioners that since medical cannabis was legalized in Maryland, it has been widely successful.

“The info provided on the state website says in the first year of sales [from 2017 to 2018] the number of registered cannabis patients increased from 20,000 to 75,000 patients with an additional 250 to 300 per day applying to be licensed,” she said. “And in the first 12 months, $96 million was generated among licensed retailers — more than double the original estimation, just in Maryland.”


She told the board Tuesday that the last time medical cannabis came before the commissioners in 2016, the previous board decided to only allow medical cannabis growing, processing and dispensing facilities in the industrial zones.

Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, made the case Feb. 12 that dispensaries should not just be tucked away in industrial zones, but allowed in commercial zones, like pharmacies.

“Dispensing, in my opinion, should be: where you allow a pharmacy, you should allow this as well,” Frazier said. “That would be commercial.”

The county Board of Commissioners granted a small victory to medical cannabis advocates Thursday, moving to adjust proposed zoning regulations to allow growing, processing and dispensing as principal permitted uses in industrial zones.

Rothstein asked where dispensaries are being zoned in other counties.


“Commercial shopping centers, standalone commercial shopping centers,” Lane said. “We couldn’t find any other jurisdiction that limited them to strictly industrial. They’re allowing them in commercial — and that's where you’ll see them if you drive into Frederick County.”

She explained to the commissioners there are strict state regulations for growers, processors and dispensaries that include: fencing, gates, video surveillance, security lighting, restrictions on visitors, separate public and operation zones, and a secure concrete wall for inventory to meet commercial security standards.

“I would imagine we were more conservative [two years ago], and therefore more restrictive,” Rothstein said. “I agree with Commissioner Frazier that we shouldn’t be more restrictive than what’s already in place.

“Medical cannabis is being used very differently,” he said. “We’ve grown to [accept] its usage for legitimate appropriate, regulated procedures. That’s just the reality of it. It’s hard to make that culture change from where we were to where we are, but that’s just the reality. It should be dispensed where other medicines are dispensed.”

But Lane said there was something else decided in 2016 regarding medical cannabis that could be a roadblock to allowing it in commercial areas — the requirement that dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet away from any school.

The requirement would limit the locations where dispensaries could be located, she said, and in surrounding jurisdictions the only other distance requirement she saw in her research was for 500 feet.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he doesn’t want to see dispensaries near kids, and asked to see exactly how much of the commercial zone would be eliminated if the distance requirement is maintained.

“I fundamentally have a problem with a grower, processor, dispensary near a school,” he told the group. “And I’ll take it a step further, any child care facility.”

The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission will begin changing the county’s Industrial Restricted Zone to allow breweries after county commissioners gave them a thumbs up Thursday. But the board denied the department’s request to defer any additional requests for changes to text or maps.

He said he would be open to debate, however, depending on how much it restricts the industry.

“My biggest concern is we don’t over-regulate the zoning, and look at best practices, and have debates in this conversation,” Rothstein said.

“If I'm going to recognize it as a legitimate use, medical cannabis — which I never thought I would be saying,” he said, “to be dispensed in [commercial zones], then it should be allowed to be dispensed in [commercial zones]. We shouldn’t overstep.”

Wantz said his main concern was that recreational use of cannabis would be legalized and that existing dispensaries would begin to sell it for recreational purposes — and he does not support that occurring within 1,000 feet of a school.

“This is for medical,” Frazier said. “Recreation is a different use.”

“And we would not allow for those dispensing operations to allow for recreational distribution,” Rothstein added.

The Planning Department said that it would find the data the commissioners requested by the next time they meet to discuss comprehensive rezoning, on Thursday, Feb. 21.

The two boards also discussed maps and the calculation of building heights — as well as the amendment brought to the Board of Commissioners two weeks ago to allow small-scale breweries in industrial areas which is going to get a recommendation from the Planning Commission next week before returning to the board for possible acceptance.

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