The Prince George’s County Council’s planning, housing and economic development committee unanimously voted to advance a bill last week that would restrict the location of cannabis dispensaries in the county.
The bill, CB-070, mandates that cannabis dispensaries must be in industrial zones — outside of high business areas that are near residential areas, such as shopping centers and strip malls.
The proposed bill also requires new cannabis dispensaries to be located at least 1,000 feet away from another cannabis dispensary and at least 500 feet away from school land. It will also limit the hours cannabis dispensaries are open each day to between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The bill will be presented to the entire county council on Tuesday and be subject to a public hearing. It will not affect the nine existing licensed cannabis dispensaries in Prince George’s County.
District 7 council member Krystal Oriadha, one of the bill’s four sponsors, proposed the bill on July 5 — four days after Maryland legalized recreational cannabis for adult use. She said regulating where cannabis dispensaries are located is an important next step in the county.
The goal is for this bill to be passed before the end of the county council’s legislative session in November, Oriadha added.
Oriadha said her district is among the most impacted by an oversaturation of tobacco and liquor stores in the county. She noted that residents are calling for better investments in restaurants, medical care facilities and entertainment.
“They don’t want to see their strip mall have liquor stores, tobacco stores and now cannabis shops,” Oriadha said. “At least for me, one of the important things was ensuring that there was not an oversaturation of cannabis inside the beltway.”
District 6 council member Wala Blegay said Thursday that she is concerned about cannabis users lingering in parking lots in residential communities.
But if cannabis dispensaries are limited to industrial zones, these communities would not have to worry about that issue, she said.
“If somebody wants this, they’ll go where it is to get it,” Blegay said. “At this point, we’re just making sure we’re protecting our communities.”
While some council members agreed with the bill’s intentions, there was some pushback to the bill’s proposal to limit cannabis dispensaries to industrial zones.
District 5 council member Jolene Ivey said she disagrees with the industrial zone limit because existing cannabis dispensaries in shopping centers have not caused issues.
Ivey, who chairs the council’s planning, housing and economic development committee, added that already-established cannabis dispensaries will have a business advantage over those that could be restricted to industrial zones.
“If we’re saying people who live in our community are going to have a second-tier cannabis dispensary because of rules that their own county council’s putting forth, I don’t think that’s the best way to do it,” Ivey said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”
District 2 council member Wanika Fisher added that the industrial zone regulation will not help people of color prosper economically.
“It was a very big priority of the Maryland Black Caucus that Black-owned businesses benefit in the market,” Fisher said. “For us to not make sure that Black-owned businesses are getting the best location and most prosperous opportunity for them to succeed, I think is a little counterintuitive.”
The bill also received pushback from some cannabis dispensaries in the county.
Neil Thorsen, an inventory manager at the Greenpoint Wellness cannabis dispensary in Laurel, emphasized that cannabis dispensaries are retail businesses, making it “absurd” for them to be limited to industrial zones in this bill.
“If there’s enough business to support that amount of stores, then you shouldn’t be doing anything to limit that if that’s what your people want, if that’s where they want to spend their money,” Thorsen said.
However, Oriadha said that this bill’s passage is part of the council’s job to solidify state laws on a local level. Zoning adjustments allow the county council to address local needs, Fisher added.
“No one knows the streets of Prince George’s County better than the local representatives, and that’s why the state gave us the authority to zone it,” Fisher said.