Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has never made any bones about being dead set against selling medical marijuana. He was hoping to ban it.
But that’s not to be, with the Anne Arundel County Council’s collective view just about the polar opposite — and because of a bill legalizing medical marijuana sales in Maryland that was signed by Gov. Larry Hogan after the last session.
That means Schuh can be against it all he wants, but the council’s stand, the state law and a call to Schuh’s office from the state attorney general’s office meant it was time to work it out.
As that compromise takes shape, it appears that the growth and processing of marijuana mainly will occur in rural South County, while the majority of the dispensaries will be located in North County — but perhaps not along North County’s most crowded commercial corridors, notably Ritchie Highway, and crime-ridden areas.
This course of action was announced to a public that is generally in support of making medical marijuana available. Of note is the recent release of the fall survey from Anne Arundel Community College’s (AACC) Center for the Study of Local Issues (CSLI), which indicated that 69% of county residents are in favor of having the opportunity to purchase the drug.
Schuh’s administration has agreed to allow marijuana to be grown and sold, but under various provisions. They include prohibiting marijuana from being grown and processed within 1,000 feet of a residential dwelling or school, as well as preventing dispensaries (which have until Nov. 6 to file applications for licenses to the Maryland Marijuana Cannabis Commission) from operating within the same distance in areas that lie north of Route 50 and east of the South River.
That also would mean that most cultivators would grow the plants mostly in rural South County, though some would be allowed to grow marijuana north of Route 50, between Interstate 97 and Route 3.
There would be no buffer zones for dispensaries in South County, however, with the idea being to ensure that not all of the purchase points are located in North County.
This also means that there will be numerous areas in Anne Arundel where operations will not be allowed to exist, including much of Arnold, Pasadena, Glen Burnie, Severna Park and West County.
Also, under Schuh’s proposal, most of the dispensaries would be located in commercial or industrial areas around BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, Hanover and Brooklyn Park. In the southern portion of the county, dispensaries would be allowed along Route 2, just south of Edgewater; also, the City of Annapolis would make its own rules under its own planning and zoning codes.
Further restrictions are under Maryland law, which permits two dispensaries per state senatorial district.
From the Council
Under a second measure, sponsored by three council members, medical marijuana operations would be allowed in almost twice as many areas.
That bill would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from being located within 1,000 feet of an elementary, middle or high school, and within 2,500 feet of each other. Most of such operations also would be in North County, but permitted within larger swaths of Laurel, Hanover and Glen Burnie, and along Interstate 97, Route 3 and Ritchie Highway. They also would be allowed in mixed-use areas.
Growing operations would be allowed under conditional and permitted uses in commercial, industrial and rural residential areas, which could extend from Gambrills, Millersville and Crownsville to the South County locations of Davidsonville, Friendship and Waysons Corner.
Owen McAvoy, spokesperson for Schuh, called the office’s approach, “Strict, but responsible in regulating growth and sales. We still have concerns, and this is all very new. We don’t want to dive into this headfirst.
“Nationally, we have looked at how other municipalities have implemented it; some of them were very open to [medical marijuana sales], others not,” McAvoy said. “We want other counties to look to our example.”
He added that patients “can get up to a quarter-pound of marijuana a month, which is worth about $5,000 on the street, so there will be large amounts of cash changing hands,” he said. “So, this will require more security and police protection.”
McAvoy added that transactions have to be “all cash, since dispensaries can’t make deposits with federally regulated banks.”
More to Come
As for the reservations from Schuh and his camp, Dan Nataf, director of the CSLI, thinks some their apprehension “is kind of misguided [and] almost a little exaggerated in the terms of potential fears.
“Look at [the situation with] Oxycontin, which is a gateway drug to heroin,” said Nataf. “People have asked why we’re having such concerns about people O.D.ing on marijuana while we’re trying to get a grip on the heroin epidemic.”
While Schuh has had to soften his stance on medical marijuana, County Council Chairman Jerry Walker still isn’t sure that the current progress really represents much of a compromise.
“I guess you could call it that,” said Walker. “It’s still terribly restrictive and it’s not really allowing the meds to go anywhere, with all of the hoops to go through.
“The only thing left on the bill is the title, but it creates special exceptions on every type of every zoning designation where operations are not permitted,” he said.
The code, Walker said, “is a permissive code.
“If I had a property zoned C-1, that means certain types of businesses are permitted there. If it’s not permitted there, you can’t do it,” said Walker. “Schuh wanted to the ban medical marijuana on every type of zoned land, but he has so many special exceptions on everything. There is council support to get rid of the special exceptions.”
Walker predicted that “You will see wholesale changes to Schuh’s bill to loosen the restrictions at the next meeting,” which is set for the first Monday in November.
Before anything gets signed, Walker is hoping to see a more consistent approach from Schuh.
“From my perspective, Steve is publicly saying that he’s opposed to it,” he said, “but what he’s really doing is flip-flopping and making it legal on all fronts.”