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Medical marijuana licensing process needs to be more transparent so Harford communities can prepare [Editorial]

The first round of becoming qualified to dispense cannabis, marijuana, if you wish, in the State of Maryland for medical purposes has concluded with last week's announcement of 102 pre-qualified applicants by the state commission which is regulating the production and dispensing of the drug.

From Harford County's perspective, we didn't find out a great deal about the basics of who and where and when. The dispensary licenses are being awarded at the rate of up to two per State Senate District. Since Harford shares two of its three districts with neighboring Cecil and Baltimore counties, just having names on a piece of paper by district won't tell you a whole lot.

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We can say two of a possible six dispensaries are a definite for Harford, assuming their prospective operators get final approval, because Senate District 34 is self-contained in the south central and southeastern part of the county, which means the two could be anywhere between Edgewood, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Abingdon and Bel Air.

All three of Harford County's state senators weigh in on having medical marijuana dispensaries in their districts after a state commission releases the names of companies pre-approved to operate dispensaries around the state.

It gets more complicated with District 7, shared with eastern Baltimore County, and District 35, shared with western Cecil County.

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For instance, where District 7 is concerned, there could be a dispensary anywhere from Joppa to Fallston to Norrisville in Harford, to Kingsville, Fork, Baldwin, Bradshaw or Middle River in Baltimore County.

For District 35, there might be one anywhere from Jarrettsville east to Whiteford or in Perryville, Port Deposit or Rising Sun or points in between.

Harford County is not on the list of sites pre-approved for the state's initial rollout of medical marijuana growers and processors.

And, as happens with most things in Maryland, most of these operators are set up as limited liability corporations, or LLCs, where you really can't be sure of the personalities, or the money behind them, a common complaint with many business activities in the state, not just this new one.

One of the points the state legal people have made about medical marijuana dispensaries is communities can't use zoning laws to target keeping them out.

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This is unfortunate, but probably true, as we have seen in Bel Air where town officials in the past have been bullied by lawyers representing halfway houses and recovery center operators/investors.

No licenses to grow medical marijuana in Harford means the police are spared a potential burden, especially while they are engaged in the heroin epidemic fight.

Of course, since nobody yet knows where any of these places will be, nobody really knows how to prepare for them.

They could be as nondescript as a candy store, or become a community nightmare. We recognize it's hard to say either way when something hasn't been tried.

Still, we've been skeptical of medical marijuana from the get-go and remain so, until convinced otherwise.

Despite declaring war against heroin, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman is not concerned that the arrival of medical marijuana in Maryland will usher in a slippery slope for more cannabis use.

Despite all its proclaimed health benefits, we have yet to see any evidence this wonder drug outweighs the downside risk that medical marijuana dispensaries will amount to a pill mill for pot in a county that is already reeling from drug abuse problems.

The lack of transparency so far in the licensing process does little to assuage those concerns.

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