The long awaited medical marijuana in Pennsylvania is now here and Pittsburgh permits will start being issued in October. Pennsylvania has had a lot of trouble implementing its medical marijuana laws just as many other states, but now it is time to decide upon zoning of dispensaries and the outlets that can sell it. Many other states have struggled with zoning in an attempt to keep it away from residential areas and schools. Pittsburgh permits for dispensaries within the city is more oriented towards creating easy access to patients.
An update to Pittsburgh’s zoning code could establish by October where medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and processors may do business in the city.
Legislation introduced by city council last week would direct growers and processors largely toward industrial zones. For dispensaries, the measure includes mixed-use commercial districts, neighborhood commercial districts, general industrial areas, Downtown and the North Shore as potential sites.
Applicants would need to receive zoning variances in order to set up shop elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
“You need [dispensaries] to be in a relative business district so you can get easy access,” said Councilman Corey O’Connor, who sponsored the proposal with council President Bruce Kraus and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak.
Pittsburgh appears unlikely to see many grower or processor operations, which often tend toward less urban areas.
But local dispensary applications “are going to become more frequent in the next five to six years,” Mr. O’Connor said.
City zoning officials drew up the legislation at council’s request, relying on guidance in state law and precedents set in other communities. Gov. Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law in April 2016, effectively legalizing several non-smokable forms of the treatment.
The approved pills, oils and other products aren’t expected to be legally available until early 2018. In June, the state announced that five companies would have initial clearance to dispense medical marijuana in southwestern Pennsylvania.
One of them, Keystone Relief Centers, already received city zoning clearance for a Squirrel Hill location on Forward Avenue, approved as an unlisted use. Mr. O’Connor said the council legislation tailors zoning standards to dispensaries and their function.
Under the bill’s current language, that would mean treating the businesses “no differently from a pharmacy-type use,” at least from a zoning perspective, zoning administrator Corey Layman said. He said the proposal would not permit the outlets in strictly residential districts.
“We looked at best practices. We looked at what our constraints were, and direction from the state — since that’s where this is coming from — and tried to present the most responsible ordinance for [council] to work from,” he said.
At the nonprofit Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, executive director Patrick K. Nightingale said the legislation shows that “the city is making sure [dispensary] license winners don’t run into a problem.”
“We have to have them in areas where patients have access to them,” Mr. Nightingale said.
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