Before launch of medical marijuana, City Council to weigh where dispensaries can open

20161021_inq_se1council21z-a
Councilman Al Taubenberger has Ryan Howard sign his copy of a Phila. City Council resolution passed Thursday honoring the longtime Phillies slugger for his work on and off the field.

In preparation for the launch of the state's medical marijuana program, a member of Philadelphia City Council on Thursday introduced zoning restrictions to limit where growing operations and dispensaries can open.

The legislation, introduced by Derek S. Green, would ban dispensaries within 500 feet of residential areas, churches, hotels, convention centers, playgrounds, pools, parks, recreation centers, libraries, and other places. State law already bans dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools or day-care centers.

Green said the goal is to find a balance between providing access and maintaining public safety.

"The dispensaries are going to be in commercial locations, but you want to make sure those commercial locations are close enough where people who are dealing with these diseases have access to them," he said.

Gov. Wolf signed the medical marijuana bill into law in April. The state has two years to develop regulations for the industry. Once those regulations are adopted, entrepreneurs will be able to apply for permits to grow or dispense. The state law allows for 25 licensed cultivators and 50 dispensaries.

The proposed zoning legislation also stipulates that dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of adult merchandise stores, gun stores, tattoo parlors, correctional facilities, and drug paraphernalia stores.

Growing operations would be restricted to light, medium, or heavy industrial districts.

Steve Schain, a Philadelphia-based lawyer with the Hoban Law Group, an international firm that focuses on cannabis law, called the proposal "overly restrictive."

"The 500-foot rule is better for businesses than a 1,000-foot rule, but in Philadelphia County it's going to be hard to operate in that footprint," Schain said. "Beyond limiting the inventory of available properties for dispensaries and grow houses, the rule will make it more difficult to build out a site so that it's operational within six months of winning a license."

Paula Brumbelow, a senior planner with the city, said the legislation as drafted would allow at least one dispensary in virtually all of the city's 18 geographical planning districts.

"Most [locations] are along commercial corridors accessible by public transit or in large shopping centers that had bus service and plenty of car parking," she said.

tnadolny@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @TriciaNadolny