Commissioners move forward with cannabis zoning amendment
By: Heather Norris 7/14/16
While medical marijuana, now being called medical cannabis, has been legalized in the state, Carroll County commissioners indicated Thursday that they have no intention of making it easy to distribute the product within county limits.
“I want to make it as hard as possible [to sell medical cannabis] until someone gives me directive otherwise or suggests that it shouldn’t be hard,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said before the board voted Thursday in favor of sending a zoning text amendment related to the growing, processing, and distribution of cannabis to the Planning and Zoning Commission for final approval.
Under the proposed zoning change, growing and processing operations would be restricted to industrial zones, where they would be permitted only as a conditional use, meaning approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals would be needed before anyone could begin operating in the county.
Currently, growing medical cannabis would be permitted in county agricultural zones and processing would be permitted in industrial zones as a principal use, eliminating the need or requirement for any additional input from zoning staff.
The amendment would also place limitations on dispensaries, which would currently be allowed in business zones, but under the proposed amendments would be restricted to an accessory use of a larger growing or production operation, ensuring that distributors would have to either grow or process cannabis on-site in order to sell it.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, questioned the motive behind the proposed amendment, particularly the effect it could have on dispensaries. Already, he noted, the state has limited the number of dispensaries to two per state senatorial district.
“My concern is I don’t want to limit it even more by having it accessory use,” he said, noting that dispensaries in the county would have to obtain two licenses from the state — a dispensary license as well as a growing or processing license — in order to do any business in the county.
Dispensaries could also meet the accessory use qualifications by establishing a relationship with a licensed grower or processor who would then allow them to share their space, Zoning Administrator Jay Voight said.
Frazier suggested that the county instead formulate the amendment to restrict dispensaries to industrial zones but allow it as a conditional use. Doing so, he said, would not expand the state restriction of two dispensaries per district but it would relieve potential dispensers from the burden of having to acquire multiple state licenses to do business.
“It just opens the door up to other people that might just want to be dispensers,” he said.
Other commissioners said they worried about the potential effects of not imposing more restrictions on the industry.
“The fundamental question here is: Do we want to make it easier or harder to sell marijuana-spiked products in Carroll County?” asked Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4.
Rothschild argued that placing more restraints on the industry would make it easier for law enforcement to monitor any potential problems that could arise from the legalization of medical cannabis in the state.
“If we make the process easier, the more that it’s going to be susceptible to problems,” he said.
Regarding Frazier’s suggestion, he said, “I perceive it as making it a little bit easier and I don’t support it.”
Wantz said he believes the delays at the state level in implementing the program should serve as an indication to officials that the state is not ready to take on medical cannabis.
“There’s a reason why things are being delayed,” Wantz said.
Once evaluated by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the amendment would be eligible for further legislative action and approval by the Board of Commissioners.
Any amendment made by the board, said Phil Hager, the county’s director of planning, could be modified in the future if county officials deemed it necessary.