Shortly after the new Anne Arundel County administrative hearing officer rejected a proposed medical marijuana dispensary near Pasadena, County Executive Steve Schuh said he will launch a review of county rules on the clinics next week.
Hearing officer Jonathan Hodgson denied a variance request by Maryland Physician Partners LLC. The company filed an application for a medical marijuana dispensary at 7609 Energy Parkway near Pasadena.
In an interview shortly after the ruling was published, Schuh said he plans to form a task force to review county laws governing zoning restrictions of dispensaries. He said he was unaware of Hodgson’s ruling until he was asked about it.
A year after the county adopted rules governing where dispensaries can locate, Schuh said the law may need adjusting to make it possible for clinics to open without seeking a variance. He also said many companies are finding it difficult to open because commercial landlords do not want to work with the marijuana business.
“The goal of the county law is to keep it on a short leash so it does not morph into recreational use,” Schuh said.
Maryland Physician Partners requested a variance because its proposed location inside the industrial park property did not immediately abut to an arterial or higher classified road.
The denial means the business cannot move forward with its medical marijuana dispensary. These facilities have to meet a strict set of requirements to build, and applicants have had difficulties finding locations that meet all of those requirements and don’t need variances.
Out of the 11 marijuana applications, nine of them have requested variances. The county’s Planning and Zoning Office have recommended denial of every variance.
Four of those variances were granted by the previous hearing officer.
“The applicant claimed the variance is appropriate because the special exception criteria are very restrictive and that, although the applicant tried to find a suitable property, none were found to be available,” Hodgson wrote in his decision.
“The applicant also asserts that, although it does not satisfy arterial road requirement, roads of that sort are very close by and serve the larger business complex, if not the subject property and, therefore, the variance should be granted. I do not agree. I find that the subject property is not unique in any meaningful way. There are no unusual shapes or topographical features that distinguish that property from others in the area.”
The decision on the variance can be appealed to the county Board of Appeals within30 days from the date of the decision.The applicant, Dr. Gina Berman, declined to comment.
Berman and her team of lawyers argued restrictive county requirements made it impossible to find an available location that met all of the criteria. If a plot of land met every requirement, the land may not have been for sale or the owner didn’t want a dispensary on the property.
The Energy Parkway location only needed one variance and met all of the residential requirements. It took seven months to find that location, Berman said in a previous interview.
Hodgson took the position after former administrative hearing officer Doug Hollmann left the job March 15. County officials have not disclosed whether he was fired or resigned.
The same day the county announced Hollmann’s departure, they disclosed his decisions on medical marijuana variances and unveiled legislation that would prohibit variances to special requirements for those projects.
When asked if Hollmann’s variances decisions spurred his departure, county officials declined to comment.
It is no secret Schuh is not a fan of medical marijuana opening in the county. He initially pushed for a ban on the practice within the county, ultimately compromising with the County Council by implementing some of the strictest requirements in the state.
Schuh said Friday his resistance wasn’t opposition to medical marijuana itself. He said flaws in the state law legalizing marijuana make it too easy for residents to obtain without valid medical reasons.
“We have no issue with medical marijuana for people who are suffering from chronic pain,” Schuh said. “We have a problem with recreational marijuana.”
County zoning requirements cover the north portion of the county past Route 50 or north of the northeast shore of the South River. Medical marijuana facilities can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a dwelling or residentially zoned property, public or private school or real property owned by the Board of Education.
The site also must have access to an arterial or higher classification road. Arterial roads are classified as such because they serve longer trips and connect higher density residential, commercial and industrial areas.