Anne Arundel County is one step closer to getting its first medical marijuana dispensary after approving an permit application for a site just outside Annapolis.
Administrative Hearing Officer Douglas Clark Hollmann approved the application from Advanced Alternative Therapies LLC for the special exception needed to open a dispensary at 2029 West St. The building is currently home to a take out pizza restaurant and a tattoo and body piercing shop.
Hollmann wrote in his decision dated Friday that the potential for marijuana from the business being «resold for illegal purposes is remote.»
«This is not pot; it is a medical product that has been stigmatized because it is made from a plant that people in the 20th and 21th century decided is a dangerous drug,» Hollmann wrote.
The location had drawn criticism from nearby community members. Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles, D-Ward 3, presented opposition letters from the Greater Parole Community Association and a coalition of Ward 3 pastors at a hearing this month.
Hollmann largely dismissed their concerns in his decision, writing that the business should be not be viewed through the same lens as if it were a business that also sold for recreational use.
«Whether history will reverse public opinion about marijuana, like what happened with alcohol and prohibition, is not relevant to this case,» Hollmann wrote. «Smoking (or eating) cannabis for the purpose of getting high (or fat) may be dangerous or harmless but whatever one thinks about this subject has no bearing on whether a medical cannabis dispensary should be allowed on the facts of this case.»
Medical cannabis dispensaries are highly regulated under state and county law.
Only two dispensaries are allowed in each of Maryland’s 47 senatorial districts and only those with a prescription will be allowed to browse and buy. Dispensary employees and volunteers will have to pass a background check.
Dispensaries are considered permitted uses within commercial and industrial zones in Anne Arundel, but they must meet certain conditions under the special exception process.
The West Street location would not be affected by county legislation passed this week tweaking those zoning rules. That bill specifies that medical marijuana dispensaries located north of Route 50 or north of the northeast shore of the South River are not allowed within 1,000 feet of a house or school building. Those restrictions do not apply elsewhere in the county.
The change, which passed unanimously, represents a tightening of the previous law, which banned dispensaries within 1,000 feet of homes and schools only if the business was located both north of Route 50 and east of the South River.
While the site of the Advanced Alternative Therapies dispensary falls within the new boundary lines, it will not be affected because the application was already in progress at the time the Council Council approved the changes.
Of the 102 dispensaries that received preliminary approval statewide, nine are seeking locations in Anne Arundel County. Another three are in a district that includes part of Anne Arundel as well as Prince George’s County.
Advanced Alternative Therapies is run by David Podrog, who formerly owned Maritime Auto Wash in Annapolis and Severna Park, and Larry Adler, the founder and former CEO of Serenity Acres, an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Crownsville.
Podrog and Adler hope to launch the business at the end of the summer, but Podrog said the opening date is dependent on several variables.
Maryland dispensaries must be supplied by local growers, who are also in the process of getting up and running.
The state’s medical cannabis laws still face an uncertain future. Dogged by accusations that it did not consider racial diversity in awarding medical marijuana licenses and that it improperly selected lower-ranked companies to encourage geographical diversity, the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission now faces three separate lawsuits, and legislators have introduced a half-dozen bills aimed at expanding or reforming the licensing process.
This story will be updated.