House Bill HB50 seeks to legalize adult-use of marijuana in the State of Pennsylvania, which would expand the cannabis industry currently developing here through the 2016 Act 16 – Medical Marijuana Act. With the possibility of rapid growth in this industry, special attention should be paid to how new zoning ordinances and land-use law associated with growing, processing, and distribution are implemented.
Land Development through Special Exceptions
A Temple University article from 2017 discusses the possible zoning hurdles that could occur after the passage of Act 16. The article states that some municipalities’ local ordinances require the grow/process facility or dispensary to obtain approval by special exception. This would require applicants to obtain approval from the local Zoning Hearing Board, presenting a potential for biases to be applied through restrictive regulations.
Such a case occurred in Anne Arundel County, MD as reported by the Capital Gazette. Since the State of Maryland approved cannabis sale in 2014, a former county executive sought a ban on medical marijuana. The path to banning medical marijuana wasn’t legally feasible, so the county council crafted legislation containing some of the strictest rules in the state.
Moving forward, developers and entrepreneurs must navigate political waters and educate both themselves and stakeholders. Through our strong ties to the South Central Pennsylvania market, community engagement, and design delivery process, Warehaus is able to identify stakeholder needs and provide solutions. We have a long history of obtaining special exceptions for clients on projects with community resistance.
Potential for Economic Growth
A 2016 University of Baltimore Journal of Land and Development article claims commercial property values are expected to rise because of high demand for retail space and the fact that growers usually look for older industrial areas to set up their grow sites. The article describes a case in the Town of Hancock, Washington County, MD who supported a resolution for a 45,000 sf grow facility for a 5 percent no-voting stake in the company, creating up to 125 jobs and potentially redeveloping an old Fleetwood RV factory. The author concludes that local municipalities need to strike a balance between onerous regulations and the large demand for medical cannabis.
Environmental and Land-Use Impacts of Cannabis Cultivation
A 2018 UC Davis article explores the impacts of cultivation on environment, zoning, and current federal laws on public and private lands. The article sought to answer complex questions about cultivation:
- Rapid expansion of industries can lead to environmental and land-use problems, and in this context, explosion of cannabis cultivation is no different. What are the environmental implications of converting a mature stone fruit orchard to a row crop? Indoor grows specifically demand a great deal of energy for lighting, dehumidification, temperature control, and irrigation.
- Do we see reduced growing on federal land if we legalize the growing on private land? Illegal grows will remain profitable as farmers can save money by not complying with environmental and land-use laws.
- If there is a moral aspect to land conservation, does marijuana make us feel like we are getting our hands dirty? Those opposing the marijuana farm in Palisade, Colorado, argued that growing pot is unethical.
At the time of publication, the article concludes that land trusts should not enter into agreements. The article notes, “States passed laws regarding marijuana without also thinking about regulations for cultivation. This is unsurprising when many laws came about as the result of voter initiatives. Even in the wake of legalization, legislation and regulations focused on regulating the business ends of the venture and collecting taxes. If communities have not done so already, they need to now take the time to consider the environmental and land-use implications of these legal changes.”
If the Pennsylvania State legislature does not mandate the allowance of this industry within their borders, developers, engineers, and planners seeking development rights through special exceptions will be left to negotiate with the municipalities and the communities that they serve. These communities may request that potential sites demonstrate any or all of the following:
- Economic Benefit to the community
- Environmental security
- Life safety
One possible approach is to destigmatize production and consumption of cannabis and allow this industry by right and not through special exceptions. Some municipalities have indeed taken this approach. Would a community deny or require additional processes for other manufacturing industries?
Either through special exception or use by-right, this industry will see rapid growth in the coming years. Warehaus is prepared address these challenges.
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