IMAGE: Illustration ©2016 William L. Brown for the Takoma Voice.
OP-ED • BY MONTGOMERY COUNCIL COUNCILMEMBER TOM HUCKER
On January 6, my friend Seth Grimes wrote an opinion in the Voice about proposed Montgomery County zoning change ZTA 15-13. The ZTA would impact medical marijuana dispensaries in Takoma Park by creating a setback from public and private schools. In the article, Seth asks whether the proposed legislation is a justified restriction or a flawed continuation of the War on Drugs.
As the local Councilmember representing Takoma Park on the Montgomery County Council, I agreed to introduce this ZTA for discussion at the request of elected officials in Takoma Park. The Takoma Park City Council is scheduled to vote on their formal recommendation to the County Council in February, and the County Council will hold a public hearing on the issue after that point to allow us to hear from City elected officials and other stakeholders.
County council member Tom Hucker at a 2015 Silver Spring, MD event. Photo by Bill Brown.
The setback requirements are taken from model legislation disseminated by the Marijuana Policy Project, which includes a 1,000 foot buffer zone from both public and private schools. The proposal is a common legislative precaution against the threat of seizure under the Federal Drug-Free School Zones. Under current Federal law, U.S. District Attorneys have authority to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries that are too close to a school or pre-K facility. U.S. District Attorneys have shut down or threatened to shut down dispensaries in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington State.
Just last year, the U.S. District Attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, considered shutting down six dispensaries under the Drug-Free School Zone law. Since this has occurred several times under the Obama administration, it is likely to continue or increase under a new administration. If a shutdown occurred, it would be a significant risk for the business owner as well as the patients who will rely on access to these dispensaries for medical care.
I am a longtime proponent of marijuana reform. While representing Takoma Park and Silver Spring for eight years in the Maryland General Assembly, I cosponsored legislation to authorize medical marijuana, to create an affirmative defense for caregivers providing medical marijuana, and to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, among other issues. I was also a proponent of 2015 state legislation to decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia and the General Assembly’s current efforts to override Governor Hogan’s unwise veto of that legislation. And I support legislation in Congress to end the Federal prohibition on medical marijuana use.
As the recent raids by ICE have demonstrated, we cannot accurately predict when Federal authorities will choose to enforce unwise Federal laws over the objections of our local elected officials. Marylanders with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, MS, chronic pain and other health problems — who waited patiently for the State to authorize medical marijuana — as well as the dispensary owners and their neighbors, have the right to expect the County will do our best to allow dispensaries in locations that do not put them at risk of sudden closure due to the Federal government’s archaic drug laws. For those who are interested, please attend the bill hearing once it is scheduled at the County Council Building in Rockville, and please stop by to visit my office while you are there.
Montgomery County Council