Local Governments Join Medical Marijuana Debate

Recently in Pennsylvania, there was Senate Bill 3; in New York State, it was Assembly Bill 6357…

Medical marijuana legislation continues to be passed at a steady pace nationwide. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 28 states and the District of Columbia now have legislation on the books related to the cultivation, sale and management of medical marijuana.

As medical marijuana gains legal traction at the state level, local governments are being challenged to determine what’s best for their communities while honoring the needs and concerns of their constituents—and local laws.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Experts predict the medical marijuana industry will generate an annual tax revenue windfall for states in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Eyeing a potential economic boom, some communities are rushing to embrace companies connected with the medical marijuana industry with the hope that they may help enhance patient care, revitalize aging industrial areas and bring in good-paying jobs.

Embracing the benefits

In McKeesport, PA, government officials are leading the charge to bring in Pittsburgh-based PurePenn, LLC to bolster its downtown industrial region with a new medical marijuana production and processing facility. If approved, the processing facility would be the only one of its kind in the Allegheny County region.

McKeesport’s mayor, Michael Cherepko, has been a leading supporter of the project citing wide-ranging positive benefits for his community. “If we step back and educate ourselves on the benefits of medical marijuana and the manner in which it’s produced, we will learn that this industry can have a positive impact on medical care in the state of Pennsylvania and our local economy here in McKeesport,” says Cherepko.

Not in my backyard

On the other side of the coin, many communities remain vocal in their opposition to medical marijuana facilities, citing possible increases in addiction and crime and a potential negative effect on property values. In Massachusetts, residents of the towns of Hopkinton, Seekonk and Southborough – who had initially sided with the state’s legalization of medical marijuana – were less enthusiastic once the real possibility of bringing medical marijuana dispensaries to their area was being considered. Fears of a tarnished community image and the possibility of an increase of marijuana smokers in their towns prompted officials to withdraw dispensary plans. In Southborough, community concern actually led to more restrictive zoning for medical marijuana facilities.

Adapting local codes

In states that have already legalized medical marijuana, local government officials have focused their efforts mainly on enforcement, zoning, licensing, sales, distribution control and revenue collection. In doing so, they have discovered the need to update their local codes by writing new ordinances or adjusting existing ones. Because “standard” language for local medical marijuana policies doesn’t yet exist, municipalities are struggling to develop ordinance language that addresses the specific issues and concerns of their communities. In some instances, local leaders have decided to take no action to modify their codes, which, in essence, has created a passive local ban on medical marijuana.

Considering similar legislation in your municipality? We can help.

We welcome you to visit the eCode360® library to search what other communities are currently doing and use that information to help you draft legislation related to this topic. Remember that it’s important to consult with your municipal attorney first before adopting any legislation to determine the legality and appropriateness of the example you are considering.

It’s also a good idea to check with state associations. They are another great source of information and often offer educational sessions on topics of community importance like medical marijuana.

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