Maryland lawmakers passed a bill boosting the number of medical marijuana processors and growers but stripped an amendment to the bill that would have provided relief to dispensaries struggling to build in northern Anne Arundel County.
The Maryland Senate gave final approval to the bill Monday, the last day of the 2018 session with a 40-5 vote.
The final version of the bill boosted processors from 15 to 28 and growers from 15 to 20. The House of Delegates passed the bill 118-15 Saturday. Provisions of the bill emphasize attracting minority and women-owned businesses.
A “hardship waiver” in the bill did not survive a final vote. This would have allowed the state to relocate preapproved dispensaries if they struggled to find a location. That would have benefited Anne Arundel County dispensaries, which have had to fight for relief under the county’s strict zoning requirements.
The Anne Arundel “situation” was specifically mentioned during the discussion on the bill.
This is something lawmakers “can take up next year,” said state Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, who lead discussion on the bill Monday.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh initially wanted a ban on medical marijuana, but relented nd compromised with the County Council.
County lawmakers adopted some of the strictest requirements in the county when building within north county. Those requirements include a location 1,000 feet from dwellings, residentially zoned property, school or a property owned by the Board of Education. The locations also must be built alongside arterial — or higher trafficked — roads.
Nine out of 11 proposed dispensaries sought variances from the county. Variances are requests to bend the rules and approve a project despite not meeting all requirements. Four of nine sites were granted variances by Doug Hollmann, the county’s former administrative hearing officer.
Hollmann left his position March 15 and was replaced by Jonathan Hodgson, for county attorney. Hodgson denied a variance for a developer proposing a dispensary near Pasadena.
Representatives of another dispensary have been searching for a location but say it is “impossible,” John Pica wrote in an opinion column submitted to The Capital. Pica is an attorney representing Alternative Maryland Medicine, which proposed a site in Glen Burnie.
The applicant is New-York based Dr. Gregory Daniel, who sued Maryland for not considering racial diversity when granting marijuana licenses.
The state gives preapproved licenses to businesses who then have to find a suitable location within that district. Anyone given a license in districts 31 and 32 have to build there and will be caught up in the county’s strict requirements.
Even if a suitable location is found, it doesn’t guarantee the land is available for sale. If it is for sale, the owner may not want to build a dispensary.
“So, Anne Arundel County, you win. AMM will not be able to utilize the license granted by the State of Maryland,’ Pica wrote. “Want to know who loses? Families with epileptic children since no over-the-counter or prescription drug eliminates seizure like medical marijuana does, veterans with PTSD, cancer patients suffering from nausea and pain, the elderly with chronic and acute pain and arthritis, individuals with AIDS, people suffering from unbearable pain after serious accidents, people with MS, ALS, glaucoma, leukemia, and a multitude of other medical disorders.
“And companies like AMM that were granted licenses for medical marijuana and were under the impression that Anne Arundel County was business-friendly.”
Schuh has pledged to review the county’s strict requirements and said Friday he would set up a task force. He said he supports medical marijuana but the state made it too easy to acquire the necessary license to purchase the medicine.
The county executive is doing this at the same he is promoting legislation that would forbid any variances to the strict medical marijuana rules in the county. If the county’s requirements aren’t changed before the variance prohibition goes into effect, it will be more challenging for dispensaries to open within the county.