Medical marijuana will soon be available in Maryland, and that includes Carroll County, thanks to laws passed in the state legislature in recent years. Where, exactly, it will be available remains to be seen.
Knowing how controversial it is — and the need to balance availability for those with legitimate prescriptions versus fears of the community and law enforcement — we think it's smart that municipalities and now the county are thinking about zoning changes to guide how growing, processing and dispensing facilities will fit into the community's landscape.
Trepidation exists for opponents of medical marijuana, who realize the proverbial genie is already out of the bottle at the state level, and that local zoning laws are really the only way to have a say in the matter. And if concerns that medical marijuana is simply a gateway to legalization of the drug in the state prove accurate, it's even more important to have zoning in place ahead of time.
With that in mind, we wonder if the regulations Carroll County government seems to have in mind, particularly for dispensaries, aren't too onerous.
On Thursday, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners will review a proposal that would limit growing and processing operations to industrial zones only as a conditional use, meaning anyone proposing such a facility would have to first go before the Board of Zoning Appeals in a public hearing. That's a significant and far more restrictive change versus current zoning, which would allow medical cannabis growing operations as a principal use in any agriculture-zoned area, but it's a change we're OK with.
Curious, though, is the proposal to allow dispensaries — where patients would receive their medical cannabis — only as an accessory use to either a growing or processing facility. While we can certainly understand the desire to keep such dispensaries out of neighborhoods and away from places like schools or churches, making it an accessory use significantly limits who could operate the dispensaries.
Only a finite number of growing licenses, 15 to be exact, will be issued in Maryland, so it's possible — likely even — that Carroll won't have one. The state set no limits on the number of licenses for processing facilities, but this accessory use zoning would limit anyone seeking to run a dispensary from doing so without also running a processing facility.
Understanding the county commissioners are less than thrilled about the prospect of medical marijuana and potential future legalization of the drug, this seems to be dangerously close to skirting the Maryland attorney general's opinion that locales shouldn't be using zoning powers to prohibit medical cannabis operations. Restrictions like this also seems to fly in the face of the pro-business and pro-property rights ideals of the board.
In fact, approving these restrictions may have the exact opposite effect of wanting to keep these facilities "off main street," relatively speaking. Less restrictive zoning overlays like those implemented in the municipal limits of Westminster, Taneytown and Mount Airy so far would mean it makes more sense for dispensaries to set up shop closer to downtowns — even if not on Main Street itself — rather than in the rural areas over which county government has jurisdiction.
Granted, we're likely talking about two dispensaries in the entire county. The state has restricted dispensary licenses to just two per senatorial district. A majority of Carroll is represented by Senate District 5, with slivers of Districts 4 and 9 on the borders of Frederick and Howard counties, respectively.
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We think the county's zoning for dispensaries should mirror that of Taneytown, making it a principal use in industrial areas, with certain restrictions on distance from schools. It should still allay any concerns the board has while not being too heavy-handed.