Future of Medical Marijuana in Calvert County

The cover of a work session presentation to the Board of County Commissioners from Calvert County staff seeking guidance on zoning and planning regulations for prospective medical marijuana facilities in the county. The work session was held Tuesday.

A medical marijuana dispensary could be in the works for southern Calvert County, county staff confirmed this week, as they sought guidance Tuesday from the Board of County Commissioners on zoning and planning regulations for prospective cannabis facilities in the county.

Commissioner Pat Nutter (R) questioned the need for the discussion during the work session.

“This is new for Calvert County,” responded Planning and Zoning Director Mark Willis. “The state of Maryland is authorizing medical cannabis and that it’s going to be a reality here in the near future.”

Willis informed The Calvert Recorder after the meeting that Lauren Simpson recently obtained a marijuana dispensary license and currently has an open permit in the Lusby area.

Simpson respectfully declined to confirm any details at this time, citing there is a lot of permitting still to be done.

“As of yet, we have not issued a license for a grower, processor or dispensary in Calvert County,” Mary-jo Mather, assistant director of the state’s cannabis commission, informed the Recorder. “They may be pre-approved, but have not received a license to operate yet.”

Willis confirmed knowledge and said the requirement is to have full approval from the commission before the county issues a use and occupancy permit.

Maryland established a medical marijuana program in 2013 and created the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to make recommendations on how to issue licenses for dispensaries, growers and processors. Two of the recommendations were that there will be no more than two dispensaries per senatorial district and that dispensaries will operate in the place of pharmacies to distribute cannabis.

Applications for licenses for producers and dispensaries were released in 2015, and in 2016 the commission announced the pre-approved list of growers and processors who applied for the state’s cannabis program. No Calvert County businesses were pre-selected for licensure consideration as a cultivator or processor of medicinal marijuana at that time.

“Right now, there’s actually only three dispensaries in the state of Maryland that have been issued the final license,” reported Will Hager, the county’s new planning assistant.

In preparation for what may come, Willis and Hager presented to the BOCC what other jurisdictions are doing to regulate medical marijuana, provided examples of cannabis-related zoning in neighboring counties and showed how marijuana industry professionals would classify under the Calvert County’s current zoning regulations.

Growers would be classified as “field crops,” which are permitted in all zoning districts. Processors would require a special exception from the Board of Appeals in the farm and forest district, but have conditional permission in the agricultural preservation, light industrial and rural commercial zoning districts. Dispensaries would be given a conditional use permit in the rural commercial zoning district and many town center subareas, according to the presentation materials.

Staff later made specific recommendations for zoning of prospective medical marijuana facilities under the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance.

“Continue to classify growers and processors of marijuana as an agricultural or industrial use,” said Hager. “No two like facilities — growers, processors or dispensaries — shall be located in the same election district.”

Hager also recommended medical marijuana facilities be no closer than 1,000 feet from residential properties, schools, churches, day cares and other marijuana facilities, and that all uses should be permitted by right, with conditions, or by special exception requiring Board of Appeals approval and a public hearing.

The commissioners pondered whether to move forward on directing staff in light of the fact that cannabis is still illegal under federal law, specifically prohibiting the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana.

Commissioner Mike Hart (R) asked county attorney John Norris what the legal ramifications might be for staff to issue use and occupancy permits given the federal prohibitions of marijuana.

“The state will pay for the attorney to defend the state employee if the federal government pursues federal charges, but there is nothing similar for county employees,” explained Norris. “I cannot say a county employee would be held harmless.”

“I don’t know I can direct planning and zoning to break the law,” said Hart, concerned county employees’ livelihoods could be jeopardized by moving forward.

Commissioners’ President Tom Hejl (R) said until the federal government removes marijuana from the schedule of controlled substances, the federal authorities can also lock people up for growing marijuana, despite the state law.

“It’s really the disconnect between the state and the feds — they need to resolve that,” said Commissioners’ Vice President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R). “The state has put us in a position where we have to choose whether we listen to national law or state law. How do we get to choose?”

“The attorney general has already made a decision — we have a permit in this county and my staff has worked on that permit and I have authorized that permit to go forward,” said Willis regarding Simpson’s permit, and seeking guidance on behalf of his staff concerned about prosecution.

“One alternative is to deny that permit and let whoever submitted that permit take us all to court and force into the courts to get it resolved between the state and the feds,” suggested Slaughenhoupt.

Simpson sits on the board of directors for Solomons Business Association and is the daughter of John Simpson, owner of the Holiday Inn Solomons Conference Center and Marina, who attended Tuesday’s work session.

Last year, the elder Simpson sought a license to grow and distribute medical marijuana in the county. He had previously informed the Recorder that he got the idea from his stepson who has a medical marijuana delivery business in California. Simpson had leased the Old Line Bank building on Holiday Drive in Solomons for his dispensary, but did not receive any of the more than 125 licenses issued last year.

No definitive decision was made by the commissioners during Tuesday’s work session on how to proceed forward on planning and zoning regulations for marijuana facilities. However, Norris informed the Recorder that the direction of the Board to be to stay the current course until there is a change.

“We [can’t] foretell the future, but we can see the future. It is what it is,” said Nutter, about the eventual arrival of marijuana businesses in Calvert County.

Twitter: @CalRecTAMARA

Twitter: @CalRecTAMARA