IMAGE: The city community building in fog during the Feb. 3 city council meeting. A metaphor? Photo by Bill Brown.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Fear. That’s the city council’s motivation to keep medical marijuana dispensaries away from schools.
It took them almost an hour to figure that out at the Wednesday, Feb 3 Takoma Park city council meeting.
It was a hot but complicated issue, made more complicated by council disunity. Three out of seven didn’t want the city to get involved in zoning – which this is all about. It’s about a county – not city – zoning amendment that would bar marijuana dispensaries within a certain distance of a school. The other four didn’t agree on WHY they wanted a buffer zone.
It came down to flying bullets. Medical marijuana dispensaries have drugs and cash and armed security guards. They have large amounts of cash because banks and credit card companies don’t want to get involved in drug transactions, which in the eyes of the federal government are illegal and subject to seizure. This, thought some council members, could lead to children dying in robbery cross-fire. So, they said, dispensaries need to be kept a good distance from schools – and maybe school-bus stops and heavily-used school walking routes too.
Understand, Dear Reader, that the city can’t do zoning, only the county can. The marijuana dispensary resolution the council is discussing is about a county zoning amendment. The resolution is basically a letter to the county council. It has no legal weight. The letter will say one of three things: the city supports the amendment, would like it changed, or doesn’t favor it. Which of those three requests will be made is yet to be determined. Indications are that the council will want changes to beef up the buffer zone.
Former Ward 1 councilmember Seth Grimes speaks against the zoning amendment at the Feb. 3 city council meeting. Photo by Bill Brown.
All the reasons
The slim majority of four city council members each had a different reason for moving forward with the resolution. The four were Mayor Kate Stewart and council members Peter Kovar, Tim Male, and Rizzy Qureshi. The three opposed were councimembers Terry Seamens, Jarrett Smith and Fred Schultz.
Councilmember Tim Male’s initial reason was that a buffer zone was for dispensaries’ own good. The theory goes that federal law-enforcement agencies could shut down dispensaries near schools for violating federal drug-free-zones. This has happened in some places.
But, as councilmember Fred Schultz put it, “it’s not our job to worry about protecting [them] from where they locate their business.”
Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi said “It’s not about schools.”
“It’s about main street,” he said. Qureshi put all his assistant district attorney skills into making a case that dispensaries should be banned from “main street” because they “limit patronage.” In other words, they have a small, infrequent clientele and offer no products other than marijuana. There’s no walk-in business – which is the most desirable trait of a main street business, he claimed.
His case did not survive cross-examination from the rest of the council. What about doctor’s offices, are they undesirable on main street? Wouldn’t a dispensary actually be highly appropriate for a second story business on main street?
The only thing we have to fear
Well then, there’s fear. Councilmember Tim Male listed his constituents’ fears: fear of the unknown, fear of having it near their homes, fear of having it near their children. Male wanted to expand the buffer zone from 500 to 1000 feet.
Ironic, considering that last week Male called out mayor Kate Stewart’s “our kids will be in danger” argument against his proposal to delay library renovations.
This time he didn’t object when mayor Stewart got worked up about all the school children (including her own) who pass through Takoma Junction, a possible dispensary location. There is a major school bus stop in the Junction and many students walk through it on the way to and from school.
“We have had crime sprees. That’s a reality of where we live.” she said. “First priority should be safety.”
To put a buffer around bus stops and school walking routes would mean the council will have to request a change to the amendment’s language.
Ward 6 councilmember Fred Schultz makes a point during the medical marijuana zoning discussion. Photo by Bill Brown.
Why is this happening, you may wonder, Dear Reader.
Because, the state legalized medical marijuana last September, and as a trial they are allowing only two dispensaries in each state senatorial district.
According to reports in the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, District 20, which includes Takoma Park, is the second-most requested dispensary location. The Post reported in November that there were 30 requests for the district’s two spots. Many were for Takoma Park.
The city council was approached by one such applicant back in October.
So, likely there’s going to be at least one dispensary in Takoma Park. And the city has no control over where it will go – that’s totally up to county commercial zoning laws. So, when Takoma Park’s pearl-clutchers got on the phone to their councilmembers, the councilmembers got on the phone to the county councilmembers, and county councilmember Tom Hucker come up with this zoning amendment – JUST FOR US!
There will be more discussion on this before the council votes.
The obvious solution
The solution seems obvious to Your Gilbert. First, medical marijuana is a big money-making venture. Second, strong security is needed for both the dispensary and citizens’ peace of mind.
Conclusion: the city should apply for a license and put the city-run dispensary in the city police station. No crook is going to rob that! This is the best revenue opportunity since speed cameras.
In his Council Comment period remarks council member Fred Schultz noted that while there is a business association for the Montgomery County/Takoma Park side of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads commercial district, there is no similar organization for the side located in Prince George’s County. The commercial district is located at the intersection of University Blvd. and New Hampshire Avenue.
Shultz has been talking to the two counties about setting up a bi-county association. He solicits ideas and involvement. City council contact info here.
Councilmember Jarrett Smith is putting together a website page to list all the state legislation that could have an impact on the city. One of the more critical state bills restores a major funding source – highway user revenue – to municipalities at the pre-recession rate. This would mean a lot of money for Takoma Park – and possibly some relief to property tax-payers.
Councilmember Peter Kovar reported on the meeting he attended to give testimony opposing Montgomery College’s Master Plan – which would replace five buildings on the Takoma Park community college campus with bigger buildings. Despite his testimony the plans were approved and are now before the state Higher Education Committee for more rubber-stamping. Kovar says he has contacted our higher state representatives.
City Manager Suzanne Ludlow announced that info on the Montgomery College Master Plan is on the city website.
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