Medical cannabis dispensaries should be allowed in four zoning districts, the city of Frederick Planning Commission determined on Monday.
Nearly three years of debate on whether cannabis dispensaries are similar to pharmacies culminated Monday night in a brief discussion of whether dispensaries should be a conditional use or allowed by right in the professional business, general commercial, mixed use and mixed employment districts. It was the Planning Commission’s unanimous opinion that cannabis dispensaries should be allowed in each without going through any extra hoops.
The commission’s recommendation will go to the Board of Aldermen for a final decision.
“I think there are varying degrees of acceptance of cannabis as a legitimate medicine,” Alderwoman Kelly Russell said in an interview after the meeting. “The state of Maryland has said it is.”
At a public hearing on the topic, Russell nudged the Planning Commission to consider whether any conditions should be attached to a cannabis dispensary in any of the four districts. Particularly in the mixed-use district — where residences could be near or above business spaces — Russell questioned whether a dispensary was consistent with staff recommendations to keep them out of residential zones.
Gabrielle Collard, city manager of current planning, clarified the staff’s recommendation to keep cannabis dispensaries out of the city’s residential districts was not because of the product being sold.
“It’s really not an inconsistency, because the reason why we didn’t recommend it be in any residential zoning districts is the same reason we don’t recommend shoe stores being in a residential district,” Collard said. “It didn’t have anything to do with the product at all. It had to do with the fact that [this] was a retail activity.”
Russell and the commission members present — including Barbara Nicklas, Ron Burns and Alan Imhoff — were satisfied with Collard’s explanation and saw no reason to attach special conditions to cannabis dispensaries in the mixed-use district.
No downtown dispensaries
One place medical cannabis dispensaries will not be welcome is downtown Frederick.
A report released by the city before the public hearing stated that two downtown districts were eliminated as possible sites for medical cannabis dispensaries because of public safety concerns.
Staff determined on-site parking for patrons — who will be carrying cash and cannabis products — was necessary to keep them from being the targets of theft. When downtown, patrons could be walking several blocks between a dispensary and their car.
There was also concern that deliveries to the dispensaries should be made in a controlled environment rather than street parking available downtown.
Bloomworks Wellness LLC, a pre-approved medical cannabis distributor, had been eyeing the vacant PNC bank building at 2 E. Patrick St. to set up a dispensary. But the business was no longer under contract to buy or lease the building when the owners spoke to the Board of Aldermen during a workshop in April.
The zoning recommended by the Planning Commission would not allow Bloomworks Wellness to move into the former bank building.
Even with four zoning districts selected as potential sites for cannabis dispensaries, state law will greatly limit the number that are built.
Currently, only two dispensaries are allowed per legislative district, and one has already been established in Urbana. The aim of this restriction is to keep cannabis dispensaries a regional destination for consumers.
Jody Walker, who attended the Planning Commission’s meeting for a separate project, stayed for the medical cannabis public hearing and asked to speak during the commission’s discussion. Nicklas allowed his comments, even though she had already called for testimony and no one opted to speak.
Walker works locally as a planner and — at home in Pennsylvania — he cares for his daughter, who was diagnosed with aicardi, a seizure disorder that affects her development. Though she is 6 years old, her development is similar to that of a 6-month-old, he said.
Six months ago, Walker started his daughter on CBD oil, which is derived from the cannabis plant but does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol — known as THC — that causes the “high” of marijuana. With the oil, the child has experienced fewer daily seizures and her alertness has increased, he said.
“Now she’s there. She’s all there,” Walker said after the hearing.
Walker encouraged the commission to think of families like his when determining where to allow cannabis dispensaries.
Russell said after the meeting that it would be in the city’s best interest to enable the community to embrace cannabis dispensaries by including the public in the review and decision-making process and introducing these businesses in stages through zoning.
“There is some stigma we need to overcome,” Russell said.