With the passage of the Medical Marijuana Act (the “Act”) on April 17, 2016, municipalities throughout the Commonwealth have had their fair share of concerns about how this law will affect them. Given the stigma attached to marijuana in general, as well as illegality under federal law, some communities hesitate to embrace even medical use of the drug, stating concerns about safety and crime located around growers/processors and dispensaries. Conversely, other communities see medical marijuana legalization as a tremendous benefit and look forward to the opportunity because of the positive economic impact. But regardless of whether municipalities approve of medical marijuana facilities, they inevitably still need to zone for them.
Accordingly, the Act provides zoning requirements for growers/processors and dispensaries. For instance, a grower/processor must meet the same zoning and land use requirements as other manufacturing, processing and production facilities located in the same zoning district. 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 10231.2107. Additionally, a grower/processor can only grow, store, harvest or process medical marijuana in an indoor, enclosed, secure facility in the Commonwealth, which includes electronic locking systems, electronic surveillance and other features required by the Department of Health. 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 10231.702. These additional security requirements will likely work to ease municipalities’ attitudes towards a grower/processor opening in certain areas.
Like growers/processors, the Act also provides zoning laws for dispensaries. For example, a dispensary must meet the same zoning and land use requirements as other commercial facilities located in the same zoning district. 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 10231.2107. Further, a dispensary is subject to numerous restrictions, some of which include the following:
35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 10231.802. Should they desire, municipalities can also extend the above 1,000 foot boundary to other locations, such as residential districts, residential uses, and/or places of worship. Importantly, while some municipalities may want to merge growers/processors and dispensaries on the same site, the Act specifically prohibits doing so, and law firms should clarify that point for municipal clients.
While townships have taken a variety of approaches as to where and how they zone medical marijuana facilities, they are still subject to the same basic requirements. In particular, growers/processors most often result in being zoned as some variety of light industrial and/or commercial. Similarly, dispensaries most obviously comport well with commercial-type districts, but depending on the zoning ordinance, can also be located in certain light industrial districts.
Counsel representing municipal entities should take care in not only adhering to the Act’s requirements, but also using some creativity to add additional zoning restrictions where the Act is silent. Pennsylvania’s passage of the Act has impacted, and will continue to impact, local municipalities in the way that they amend and tailor their zoning ordinances, and, as such, municipal lawyers should keep abreast of this new and developing body of law.