McCandless officials have decided against taking quick action to add additional restrictions to the state law that allows medical marijuana processing plants and dispensaries from setting up shop in the municipality.
While municipalities cannot prohibit such operations, officials can legally limit the businesses to specific zoning districts, restrict hours of operation and require they meet any number of conditions as long as the rules are not so restrictive that they prevent a business from operating.
Members of the town’s zoning and finance committee last week considered whether to prepare a resolution containing additional restrictions to the state law that could be put up for a vote by the end of the month to prevent a “race to the zoning office” by potential operators, said Gavin Robb, the town’s attorney.
If such a resolution were approved, the additional regulations would kick in immediately. Revisions, however, could be made in the final draft of the measure, which would have to go through the planning commission process. Ordinances also must be presented at a public hearing and be approved by a majority of town council.
As it stands, because McCandless has no restrictions on the books regarding medical marijuana facilities, a business seeking to operate in the town would only have to meet the guidelines established by the state.
State law currently prohibits medical marijuana processing plants and dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of the property line of any school or day-care facility.
A draft measure prepared for the zoning committee would limit dispensaries to commercial districts and add churches and parks to the 1,000-foot rule — a move similar to the law enacted in Ross last year.
Ross’ ordinance only allows dispensaries in the commercial zoning district that covers the McKnight Road corridor, portions of Nelson Run Road and Perry Highway, and a few other locations. Ross also limited growing and processing operations to eight industrial zoning districts scattered around the township and required that they have at least 10,000 square feet of property.
Those restrictions were reviewed and approved by the Allegheny County’s legal department.
One problem McCandless faces in trying to restrict marijuana operations is that while it has a “light industrial” zoning designation, none of those areas have sufficient space for the processing plants to operate, Robb said.
As an alternative, zoning committee members considered restricting processing facilities to areas already designated for agricultural purposes, with additional requirements that they be at least 175 feet from adjacent property lines and have a minimum of 5 acres of property.
But restricting growing and processing plants to areas zoned for agricultural would not necessarily keep them from being close to residential properties, which town officials are hoping to prevent.
Robb noted that even if parks and churches are added to the 1,000-foot restriction, operators could seek a waiver from the rules.
Council President Kim Zachary questioned whether the additional restrictions are warranted.
“If it could be challenged, why even put it in there?” she said.
Zachary said the town also should continue efforts to learn more about the process used to grow and process medical marijuana and its potential affect on the surrounding neighborhood where a facility is located.
State regulations require growing and processing be done indoors.
Councilman Steve Mertz questioned why the town was attempting to add further restrictions on a legal medical product that has been deemed beneficial for treating a number of conditions and is already heavily regulated by the state.
“Why would we want to make it more difficult for something that has the potential to help people?”
While there was consensus on limiting dispensaries to commercial areas, zoning committee Chairman Greg Walkauskas suggested that the town take a more measured approach to other aspects of the proposed limitations.
“Let’s slow down and do it right,” he said. “Let’s not rush to a solution.”