County sued over mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary

Record Observer - - Front Page - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY ck­ersey@ches­pub.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — Hip­po­cratic Growth and two other com­pa­nies have filed a law­suit against the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers ask- ing the Cir­cuit Court to al­low a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary at 101 Drum­mer Drive, Gra­sonville.

The law­suit seeks $1

mil­lion in com­pen­satory dam­ages from the county and paid to the plain­tiffs, in­clud­ing Hip­po­cratic Growth, an­other com­pany which owns prop­erty, and an or­ga­ni­za­tion called 101 Drum­mer Drive.

The com­pany, 111 Scher Lane LLC, is the cur­rent owner of the Drum­mer Drive prop­erty, and that com­pany has en­tered into a con­tract of sale with the com­pany 101 Drum­mer Drive LLC, that, af­ter own­ing the prop­erty, would lease it to Hip­po­cratic Growth to op­er­ate the dis­pen­sary.

Hip­po­cratic Growth and the other plain­tiffs filed the suit Feb. 2, ask­ing Queen Anne’s County Cir­cuit Court to in­struct county gov­ern­ment to “is­sue a writ­ten ver­i­fi­ca­tion” that a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary is a per­mit­ted use in the Ur­ban Com­mer­cial zon­ing dis­trict, which is where the dis­pen­sary is pro­posed.

Fil­ing the law­suit doesn’t stop the county from adopt­ing amend­ments to the zon­ing or­di­nance to reg­u­late mar­i­juana fa­cil­i­ties. As pro­posed by the amend­ments, a med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary would be al­lowed in some zon­ing districts, but with re­stric­tions.

In the case of the Gra­sonville pro­posed dis­pen­sary, it wouldn’t be al­lowed un­der the new reg­u­la­tions be­cause the dis­pen­sary would fall within 100 feet of a res­i­den­tial dwelling and abuts an ex­ist­ing res­i­den­tial use, ac­cord­ing to Michael Wis­nosky, di­rec­tor of county Plan­ning and Zon­ing.

The County Com­mis­sion­ers have introduced the leg­is­la­tion about the pro­posed amend­ments to the zon­ing or­di­nance. It’s now up to the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion to re­view the amend­ments and then re­turn the pro­posal back to the County Com­mis­sion­ers for con­sid­er­a­tion.

At the meet­ing on Jan. 31, sev­eral com­mis­sion­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic said they feared the state leg­is­la­ture will le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana and it would be sold at the Gra­sonville site.

When con­tacted for com­ment on Mon­day, Feb. 6, Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Steve Wil­son said, “I do have a con­cern that a fa­cil­ity re­mains open over time, it [will] morph from a quiet dis­pen­sary ... into some­thing dif­fer­ent. This will hap­pen as the num­ber of pre­scrip­tions grow. The fa­cil­ity be­gins to af­fect the neigh­bor­hood around it.”

Vanessa Lyon, spokesman for the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion, said, “Ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tions, an en­tity seek­ing li­cen­sure with the com­mis­sion as a grower, pro­ces­sor, or a dis­pen­sary is re­quired to meet all lo­cal zon­ing and plan­ning re­quire­ments.”

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, the county zon­ing staff on Aug. 26, 2015, told Hip­po­cratic Growth’s lawyer that a “med­i­cal cannabis dis­pen­sary would be treated as a re­tail es­tab­lish­ment, sim­i­lar to con­ve­nience and drug stores.”

Wis­nosky de­clined to com­ment on that al­le­ga­tion.

This past De­cem­ber, the mar­i­juana com­mis­sion no­ti­fied Hip­po­cratic Growth that it was awarded pre­lim­i­nary li­cens­ing ap­proval and the com­mis­sion’s one-year dead­line to com­plete stage two li­cens­ing com­menced, end­ing next De­cem­ber.

Hip­po­cratic Growth has spent time and re­sources in “re­liance of the de­fen­dants’ po­si­tion that the dis­pen­sary lo­ca­tion was prop­erly zoned for a med­i­cal cannabis dis­pen­sary” to meet the mar­i­juana com­mis­sion’s dead­line.

The county has a le­gal duty to act and has failed to act for over 15 months, said the law­suit, and then on Jan. 31 of this year, the county com­mis­sion­ers passed a res­o­lu­tion “ef­fec­tively pro­hibit­ing any fur­ther zon­ing or per­mit re­quests re­lated to med­i­cal cannabis fa­cil­i­ties ,” in­clud­ing the pro­posed dis­pen­sary.

The res­o­lu­tion calls for county staff to con­tact the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion and to ob­tain and study all doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lated to ap­pli­cants in­ter­ested in lo­cat­ing in Queen Anne’s County.

In ad­di­tion, the res­o­lu­tion asks the county staff to re­frain from is­su­ing any zon­ing ap­provals or state­ments re­gard­ing the per­mis­si­bil­ity of med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­cess­ing and dis­pens­ing fa­cil­i­ties pend­ing the is­suance of a re­port by the plan­ning staff on the land use im­pli­ca­tions of such fa­cil­i­ties in Queen Anne’s County.

The plan­ning de­part­ment should sub­mit this re­port to the mar­i­juana com­mis­sion by Oct. 1.

The law­suit says the res­o­lu­tion was adopted with­out com­ply­ing with statu­tory pro­ce­dural re­quire­ments in the county or­di­nance and cre­ated a pro­hi­bi­tion on county plan­ning staff act­ing on Hip­po­cratic Growth’s re­quest for a zon­ing ver­i­fi­ca­tion and Hip­po­cratic Growth’s build­ing per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, Hip­po­cratic Growth and the prop­erty owner where the dis­pen­sary is pro­posed have been harmed and the county is in­ter­fer­ing with the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Mary­land med­i­cal cannabis pro­gram au­tho­rized by state law.

County at­tor­ney Pa­trick Thomp­son de­clined to com­ment on the suit. But he did say a hear­ing is sched­uled on Feb. 27 and the judge could grant a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der to is­sue the let­ter Hip­po­cratic Growth wants or rule the res­o­lu­tion is not le­gal, or dis­miss the case.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

A mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary has been con­sid­ered for this site at 101 Drum­mer Drive in Gra­sonville.

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