Pikesville residents gathered Tuesday in a Towson hearing room, waiting patiently on benches to voice their fears about and opposition to a proposed medical cannabis dispensary in their community.
The dispensary might be a magnet for crime, they told a zoning appeals board Tuesday. There could be unsavory people loitering around the business. Traffic could get worse. It could be converted to selling recreational marijuana, if that’s ever legalized, they said.
More than a dozen people came to the Baltimore County Board of Appeals meeting Tuesday to protest a plan by Temescal Wellness to put a dispensary in a vacant strip mall at 1636 Reisterstown Road. Because the property is in the county’s Pikesville Commercial Revitalization Area, the company must obtain a special zoning exception.
“This particular use is a real threat to the health, safety and welfare of the communities around it,” said Howard Needle, a longtime community activist and former politician leading the charge against the dispensary with his Pikesville neighbors.
Temescal is one of a handful of proposed Baltimore County dispensaries seeking zoning approvals, according to county records. They all face a state-imposed deadline of Dec. 8 to open or risk losing their licenses.
In Temescal’s case, the company was granted a special exception by a county administrative law judge, who found that the dispensary wouldn’t be harmful to the community and therefore should be allowed. That approval was appealed by opponents to the Board of Appeals.
Three other dispensaries also are entangled in the zoning process.
Last month, Mission Maryland presented its case to a county administrative judge for a special exception and modifications to parking and signage rules for a dispensary at 6328 Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville’s Baltimore National Pike Revitalization District. No decision has been posted yet.
CGX Life Sciences sought approvals for modified parking for a dispensary at 7458 German Hill Road in Dundalk, but was denied by the administrative judge. It appealed but hearings this month before the Board of Appeals were canceled.
Another proposed dispensary, at 5512 Ebenezer Road in White Marsh, was denied a special exception by an administrative judge for a dispensary in the Cowenton-Ebenezer Commercial Revitalization District this summer.
Similar debates over where to allow cannabis dispensaries have played out across the state, including in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and Queen Anne’s County.
Baltimore County Board of Appeals member Andrew M. Belt said the Temescal case represented a new area of law for the board to consider.
“We have trail blazed into new topics,” he said.
The need for special exceptions in commercial revitalization areas was put into the zoning law by the Baltimore County Council, which wanted residents and business owners in those areas to have a voice in the approval process.
The county has 18 commercial revitalization areas, primarily older shopping districts. The county offers grants, loans and tax credits to spur renovations and new businesses.
Cannabis dispensaries can open in other areas of the county zoned for commercial use without special approvals.
Several Pikesville residents — mainly senior citizens who live nearby — filled one side of the hearing room on Tuesday to weigh in on the Temescal dispensary.
Herman Brecher, president of a condominium building about a mile from the proposed dispensary on Slade Avenue, noted the proposed dispensary would be next to a grocery store. He said medical cannabis has “no place being dispensed next to a family food store.”
Gregory Kennedy, an attorney for Southern Management, expressed concern that the dispensary could have a negative effect on his company’s nearby Pomona office suite and apartment complex. He said the dispensary won’t mesh with the “aesthetic” goals of revitalization areas.
He also questioned if the medical dispensary might be just a foot in the door for a recreational dispensary, in the event that marijuana is ever legalized in Maryland.
“The community does not want a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Kennedy said.
In addition to their broad concerns, the opponents challenged the dispensary’s parking configuration. They offered two consultants — a surveyor and a planner — who testified that the dispensary would be shy of parking requirements by a handful of spaces, and would have driving lanes that were too narrow in the parking lot.
Temescal’s team rebutted opponent’s assertions.
Ted Rebholz of Temescal testified that the dispensary will be safe for clients and neighbors, with a security guard on site and very little cash kept on hand. While many opponents cited the “cash-only” nature of the cannabis business, Rebholz said his company works with a bank. He expects about half of the customers will pay with debit cards, based on what he’s seen at the company’s two dispensaries in New Hampshire.
Temescal officials declined interview requests.
The lawyers for both sides are expected to file written closing arguments, and the Board of Appeals will hold deliberations in the case next week.