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Medical cannabis dispensary locations lack zoning approval

AP Photo/Dino Vournas

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has already approved 11 dispensaries to be placed throughout Baltimore. But lack of strict zoning requirements has city residents worried about where the dispensaries will be located.

The Cannabis Commission was responsible for licensing the dispensaries, but the city government was left to decide where to place them. And that has raised fears of many residents, including those in Wyman Park and Hampden, where at least four dispensaries are permitted by the state.

"How far such a dispensary will be from residential area, parks, churches, and schools, and also how far the dispensary should be from other dispensaries," says Jack Boyson, president of the Wyman Park Community Association.

When the city updated it zoning laws earlier this year, it didn’t take medical marijuana dispensaries into account.

"It is unfortunate because Baltimore City is a bit behind the eight-ball in what they did in terms of the zoning code," says Leah Heist, president of Chesapeake Integrated Health Institute LLC, one of the two dispensaries with licenses to open in Hampden. "Unlike every other jurisdiction in the state that addressed cannabis dispensaries specifically, Baltimore City did not take any action."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke says that although city government cannot determine whether or not they will have dispensaries the city does have "zoning ability to relegate them.  So in Baltimore they are relegated to commercial zones."

Clarke says commercial zones often butt-up against residential areas, playgrounds, and schools. City Council’s land use and transportation committee has schedule a hearing Wednesday to determine the zoning regulations for the dispensaries.

Heist says that her dispensary’s location is in a zone that would fall under standard cannabis dispensary guidelines in states like California and Colorado, where cannabis laws are more progressive.

"I’m sure my other dispensary owners and compatriots in the city to be sure that it would fit within what those standard guidelines are," says Heist.

Jack Boyson and other residents also worry about a possible increase in crime in their neighborhoods.

"I think some people think it will bring crime to the neighborhood, or what kind of changes will impact their quality of life," says Boyson.

Councilwoman Clarke says that is a very real concern.

"Those fears are based on a couple things, the impact of methadone 15 maintenance clinics on crime in neighborhoods," says Clarke.

But she points to a study July of this year by the University of California that found that crime went down in the Los Angeles neighborhoods near medical marijuana dispensaries and up when the dispensaries closed.

Leah Heist says that upon opening her dispensary and being aware of the stigmas of cannabis, she reached out to the Hamden community associations to be more transparent.

“Most of the things they had asked for had already been in our security plan," says Heist. "They wanted to make sure we had security guards, and be sure we wouldn’t be open till one o’clock in the morning, that we didn’t have consumption on site. All of those things were in our businesses plan.”

Dispensary owners, zoning officials, and the public will all have the chance to voice their thoughts and concerns about the new dispensaries Wednesday at the city hall hearing.

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