Westminster sets public hearing date for medical marijuana ordinance

Westminster is possibly just two weeks away from finalizing and approving a law that would identify parts of the city as being suitable for medical marijuana facilities.

During a meeting Monday night, the Common Council set an Oct. 26 date for a public hearing regarding ordinance 859, which identifies a medical marijuana overlay district defining areas in Westminster where medical marijuana operations would be able to operate, even as actual zoning classifications would be unaffected.


The areas have been identified as industrial districts along Md. 97 near the Carroll County Regional Airport, developments near the intersection of Md. 97 and Md. 27, and parcels east of the intersection of Md. 97 and Md. 140 near Market Street.

Depending on comments received at a public hearing Oct. 26, the Common Council may choose to vote on the ordinance following the hearing.

After changes to state law were made during this year's legislative session, Maryland is planning on allowing medical marijuana to be dispensed to qualified patients by 2017.

The state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is processing business applications for medical marijuana operations, has set a Nov. 6 deadline, and William Mackey, director of Westminster's Community Planning and Development, said he would like to see the ordinance dealt with before then. The Common Council's next meeting following the Oct. 26 hearing would be Nov. 9.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has said it will issue up to 94 dispensary licenses and an additional 15 separate licenses for growers that will also dispense the drug, as well as an unlimited number of processing licenses.

Westminster's Planning Commission was forwarded a draft of the ordinance in late September and reviewed it during a meeting Oct. 8.

The commission's feedback mainly focused on limiting the number of growers allowed in Westminster to one. The concern was that more than that might be too much, Mackey said.

Councilwoman Suzanne Albert, who attended the planning commission meeting, said the thought was that one grower should be sufficient for the demand, "at least initially."

But Mackey said the state has received far more than just 15 growers applications already, which could make it difficult for even one grower to set up in Westminster. He also doubts there will be another bout of licenses once the 15 are approved, he said.

"The law could be changed but this was intended as just one round of licenses," Mackey said.

The commission also questioned the ordinance's requirement that any medical marijuana facility must be located a minimum of 500 feet from a school. Mackey said this was included because Baltimore County had a similar distance requirement in an ordinance designed to outline where these facilities could be located, and he and other city staff who crafted the ordinance felt this would be prudent.

Council President Robert Wack said he was concerned with putting two many restrictions on the businesses, as the industry will be heavily regulated by the state.

"I'd just rather not go there," Wack said. "I'd rather we make a prudent decision but within the boundaries of what we are clearly able to do and let the rest sort itself out. I don't want to get embroiled in that if we don't have to."

Westminster and Mount Airy are the only municipalities in Carroll who have begun the task of outlining where these facilities can be located. Though not required by law, both localities feel it should be made clear where they are allowed so as to prohibit them from setting up shop in inappropriate areas. Hampstead, Manchester, New Windsor, Sykesville, Taneytown and Union Bridge have yet to take up the issue.


Mount Airy will be holding a public hearing Nov. 2 on an ordinance that would restrict where alcohol, firearms, tobacco and medical marijuana businesses could be located in town limits, although the council may choose to amend the ordinance to remove references to medical marijuana. Councilman Bob King said during an interview Oct.6 that marijuana is not categorized the same as the other three items by the state and should be dealt with separately.