PHOTO: Medical marijuana dispensary on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Laurie Avocado.
ONE TAKOMA • SETH GRIMES
What to make of proposed ZTA 15-13, a Montgomery County zoning bill that would restrict the location of medical marijuana dispensaries in Takoma Park?
The proposed zoning text amendment was introduced by Councilmember Tom Hucker. It says that a medical marijuana dispensary – dispensaries are now sanctioned by Maryland law – may not be located, if in the Takoma Park/East Silver Spring (TPESS) overlay zone, within 500 feet of a school. (An overlay zone modifies more-general zoning rules for a certain area.)
We have been fighting for years for reform of harmful marijuana laws. Would ZTA 15-13 put in place a justified restriction, or is it an alarming recrudescence of the discredited War on Drugs?
I’m inclined to say the latter. Enough with throwing people in jail for drug offenses that shouldn’t be offenses in the first place. We should be dismantling our failed marijuana policy rather than enacting new restrictions based on fears of Reefer Madness.
I don’t fault Councilmember Hucker for introducing this bill. He was responding to constituent requests. I do, however, implore the Montgomery County Council not to advance the bill. Oh, and the councilmembers should note that the Takoma Park City Council, at its October 19, 2015 meeting, discussed a proposal to locate a dispensary in the Takoma Junction area. I was a city council member at that time. We declined, by a 5-2 vote, to pursue zoning restrictions on dispensary locations.
It doesn’t help the ZTA 15-13 cause that the text is a bit strange. Montgomery County Planning Board staff report, “geographic information system data depicts no CRT or NR zoned properties within the overlay zone and within 500 feet of a school.”
Unless there’s a disagreement about measurement – shops at the corner of Maple and Sherman Avenues in Takoma Park can’t be much more than 500 feet from Piney Branch Elementary School – the ZTA, as written, would have zero current effect. I’ll add that I know of no move, underway or contemplated, to either expand Takoma Park areas zoned Commercial Residential Town (CRT) or Neighborhood Retail (NR) or within the TPESS overlay zone.
Medical marijuana is for therapeutic use. I have in mind a neighbor who approached me a few years back, when I represented Ward 1 on the Takoma Park City Council, with the concern that he could be arrested for using marijuana as a palliative for the symptoms of a degenerative disease he suffers. My neighbor and others like him in the community need a safe, reliable, convenient medical-marijuana source. There is no justification for stigmatizing these patients, for the suggestion that a dispensary is undesirable because it will be somehow sleazy, dangerous, or corrupting. Fortunately, we do have advocates on our side who include Takoma Park’s own Senator Jamie Raskin, who is behind Maryland medical-marijuana legislation and other steps to reform marijuana policy. Delegate David Moon, also a Takoma Park resident, first elected to the General Assembly in 2014, has also been a strong policy-change advocate.
Policy change is needed, to end the disastrous War on Drugs, which has led to the incarceration of millions of non-violent offenders – disproportionately African-American – for drug infractions that should never have been enacted, given that the significance of the harm caused by marijuana use was never conclusively, scientifically established. The War on Drugs – the War on Marijuana – is little more than a suppression and control tool.
There has been strong backing state-wide for Maryland legislation to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana in the last few years, and approach I favor, but initiatives have been blocked by House of Delegates Judiciary Chair Joseph Vallario. Let’s hope that Speaker Michael Busch brings future bills to the floor for vote, or that Delegate Vallario is replaced following the 2018 elections.
For now –
After a January 19, 2016 public hearing, at 1:30 pm in Rockville – you may testify or submit comment to the council – proposed ZTA 15-13 will likely be sent to the Montgomery County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, which I hope will give it a negative report. Your voice matters. Please testify on January 19 or relay your view to County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov.