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Entrepreneurs push for medical marijuana zoning in Baltimore County

Entrepreneurs eager to get a foothold in the nascent medical marijuana business in Maryland asked Baltimore County Council members Tuesday to pass zoning laws that would allow them to operate.

Travis Radebaugh, a member of the family that operates John H. Radebaugh Greenhouses in the Freeland area of the county, told council members he was potentially interesting in a growing operation -- if the council allows them in rural zones.

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Council members are wrestling with details of where they should allow medical marijuana growing operations, processing facilities and dispensaries once the state approves licenses for the businesses.

Medical cannabis was made legal by state lawmakers in 2013. But the initial restrictions attracted no businesses, so the law was tweaked and now allows the state to issue up to 15 licenses to grow and process medical cannabis and up to 94 licenses to operate dispensaries.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, proposed a bill last month laying out requirements for medical marijuana facilities in Baltimore County. Growing and processing facilities would have to be located in industrial areas. Dispensaries would have to be affiliated with medical facilities and would have to be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, churches, residential areas and other dispensaries.

Advocates for medical marijuana said the bill was too restrictive.

Almond has since revised the bill to do away with most restrictions on dispensaries: They would no longer need to be affiliated with medical facilities, but would need to be in business zones at least 500 feet from schools and other dispensaries.

The revised bill is scheduled for a vote next week.

Some council members want further changes to the bill. Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, said he wants some rural zones that dominate his north county district to be included for growing operations.

That's an idea supported by Radebaugh, who said he would be interested in growing medical marijuana in a greenhouse on rural property in the county. He said it makes sense to include rural zones among acceptable locations for such operations.

"Everyone's going to want a stand-alone warehouse, which we already have," Radebaugh said.

Philip D. Cronin, an attorney who said he represents investors in a potential Baltimore County medical marijuana dispensary, said Almond's original 1,000-foot requirement from residential areas would hinder his clients' plans. He said the revised bill would be more palatable.

While most council members said they support the concept of medical marijuana, some remain uncomfortable with the details.

Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said many west county residents are OK with medical marijuana dispensaries, but are concerned they could eventually become stores for recreational marijuana — if that's ever legalized.

"It's important we do this right from the beginning," he said.

State Del. Dan Morhaim, a doctor and Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the state law legalizing medical marijuana, said Almond's revised bill "makes sense."

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, though, thinks it's unnecessary.

"We think [marijuana facilities] could be regulated under existing zoning laws," said Don Mohler, Kamenetz's spokesman and chief of staff. "But the council is taking its responsibility very seriously, and it looks like they are moving toward a bill that would ensure that families in Baltimore County have access to medical marijuana to ease the suffering of loved ones."

Clarification:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied Travis Radebaugh's company affiliation. He works with John H. Radebaugh Greenhouses in Freeland, which is not affiliated with Radebaugh Florist & Greenhouses in Towson.

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