As Maryland prepares to implement its medical marijuana program, questions about the new policy still persist among local and county officials in the state.
On August 13, 2015, more than 2,000 municipal officials crammed into a crowded hall at the conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City to find out more about the medical marijuana program and how it will affect their area.
Leading the forum was Hannah Byron, Executive Director of the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission. At the forum, which ran longer than scheduled, Byron faced a torrent of questions from county officials seeking reassurances about the program.
“These are not going to be neon lights on Main Street,” Byron told the crowd. “These are going to be like very boring medical offices.”
One of the topics that received the most interest at the forum was the subject of zoning laws. Some local officials, like Baltimore County Council Member Vicki Almond, want the state to clarify how much control cities and municipalities have over where marijuana businesses are established in their district.
“I don’t think that was addressed in the state bill,” Almond said during the question and answer session. “I think the counties have to look at that as we’re moving forward.”
In recent weeks, Council Woman Almond has drawn criticism from members of the state legislature for introducing a bill in her county that critics say would zone the medical marijuana industry out of Baltimore County.
Under the proposed legislation, medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers would be required to be affiliated with a state licensed medical clinic. Medical marijuana dispensaries also could not be built within 1,000 feet of a church, public or private school, public library, licensed child care facilities, areas zoned primarily as residential or within 2,500 feet of another dispensary.
Speaking with the Baltimore Sun, State Sen. Robert Zirkin said that Almond’s bill would be impractical. “It would be beyond ridiculous to do what this bill has done, which is zone it out of existence,” said Zirkin. “It would make it impossible for a patient to pick up their prescription in Baltimore County.”
In addition to concerns over zoning, there are questions about potential abuse of the system as well as worries over banking for marijuana businesses, which for the most part have been unable to gain access to basic financial services.
Despite reservations from local and county officials, Byron assured the crowd that the commission was up to the regulatory task before them.
“There are 23 other states and the District of Columbia that have a program for a medical cannabis,” said Byron. “…we’ve learned a lot from those other states, and we think we have one of the best models in the country.”
According to the commission’s website, applications for patients will begin sometime in September and applications for businesses will begin in October.