Baltimore’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened this week among the bars and restaurants of Federal Hill and the eclectic shops of Hampden, and some people who live and work in those neighborhoods said they didn’t much care.
“I just don’t want to see fast food or a chain store move in,” said Raissa Snyder, who lives a short walk down Keswick Road from Maggie’s, the new Hampden shop. “I’d like to maintain the character of the neighborhood. And this is another small business.”
The two new dispensaries — along with Maggie’s, Pure Life Wellness has opened in Federal Hill — are among 11 slated to open in the city, with 102 expected statewide.
They arrived so quietly that many passersby said they didn’t realize they were open. Nowhere on the storefronts do the businesses say they are in the marijuana or pharmacy business.
The low-key arrival comes in contrast to the years of debate, false starts and lawsuits that marked the path of legalized medical cannabis in the state.
Medical marijuana is a widely popular cause in Maryland — a 2014 Goucher Poll indicated the idea enjoyed a 90 percent approval rating in the state — and perhaps even more so in these neighborhoods, which have a demographic of young residents and visitors who are generally the most supportive of legalizing marijuana.
Maggie’s is located in the former Schwing Motor Building a few blocks off the Avenue in Hampden, and the Art Deco structure has been given enough of a makeover to earn kudos from neighbors.
Chris Allen has lived across the street from the building for three years and said it’s probably been empty for two, which he felt made it a potential target for crime.
“I’d rather have a business there than an empty shop,” he said. “It’s well lit and kind of has a nice atmosphere. …I’ve been out to Seattle where marijuana is legal and didn’t see any problems there, so I don’t expect them here.”
Maggie’s is set amid rowhouses, a 7-Eleven convenience store and a couple of art galleries. Ian Smusz works at Fleckenstein Gallery & Archival Framing and agreed an occupied building is better than an empty one, particularly one that is renovated.
“It’s been quiet so far and I don’t expect anything to change much,” he said. “This isn’t shaking up anything.”
At least one visitor to the neighborhood said he hopes to return sometime soon to buy recreational marijuana. That’s not legal in the state now, but another Goucher Poll last year found it had the support of about 58 percent of Marylanders.
Amadi Torbit came from Park Heights to help his father get to a medical appointment at a nearby clinic. Torbit said didn’t have a medical need for marijuana himself, but thought it should be legalized for everyone.
Maggie’s owner did not respond to requests for comment and access to the shop this week, but representatives appeared at neighborhood meetings ahead of its opening. Those meetings drew both support and some concern, said Matt Stegman, president of the Hampden Community Council, though he noted most concerns were similar to those for other new businesses, including how much foot traffic it would generate and how parking would be affected.
He said some residents were opposed to the shop, but others were reserving judgment until the business was operating a while. He said many people were more curious than anything else.
“It is a new thing and no one was totally sure what it would look like, and these operations can look different everywhere,” he said. “The general feeling in the neighborhood is that they are not alarmed.”
Marcie Prince, who lives nearby, said she would have preferred that the medical marijuana dispensary wasn’t located in view of houses and a park and a couple of blocks from a school. She thought it was better suited among other businesses. Still, she was pleased Maggie’s has security, which she hopes puts off anyone looking for criminal opportunities.
“They did a nice renovation, and in the first days there have been no problems,” she said.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, which produces the Goucher Poll, said many people are supportive of medical marijuana in the abstract, “but when they are faced with it in their own backyard or neighborhood they become a little less supportive.”
Kromer said many people need to see how it operates before they are comfortable. She said the dispensaries may be smart to take a low-key approach until everyone is adjusted to their presence.
“This has been a years’ long process, and they came in with more of a whisper than a bang,” she said. “They have nice storefronts and aren’t causing problems. It remains to be seen if they can keep operating under the radar.”
In Federal Hill, Pure Life Wellness opened Wednesday by appointment only. Owner Jaclyn Dolaway planned to take appointments through Saturday and open the Cross Street storefront to the public starting in a week. Representatives there also declined requests for comment.
Before purchasing medical marijuana, clients need to register with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and get a recommendation from a doctor. There were more than 17,000 consumers and more than 500 providers registered as of December when the first half dozen dispensaries opened around the state. Now 30 dispensaries have been approved to open, though not all of them have.
Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello, who represents Federal Hill and surrounding neighborhoods, will eventually see three dispensaries within his district. He said he had no concerns and hadn’t heard of any problems with Pure Life Wellness, which looks more like a spa than a pharmacy from the street. It is surrounded by pizza shops, bars and a gym, and faces Cross Street Market.
The owner met with the neighborhood association, and Costello said he and many residents were pleased about the security component that would be brought to the neighborhood. Further, he said the dispensaries have a right to open because they were approved at the state level and the properties are zoned for such business uses.
“I’ve received far more positive feedback than negative,” he said. “I don’t have any concerns.”