Delco township votes to welcome medical marijuana growers

    Wednesday night, Aston Township in Delaware County unanimously passed an ordinance to welcome medical marijuana growers — with some conditions. Residents in attendance mostly supported welcoming the new business.

    Those include “where they can go, how far from a school, regulations, specifics,” said township commission president Jim Stigale. “The ordinance is about three or four pages long.”

    The new zoning law expands the restrictions on medical marijuana growers already called for in Act 16, the Pennsylvania law creating and regulating the industry.  It requires growers to locate more than 1,000 feet from schools or daycares, something state law already mandates for dispensaries. The zoning ordinance also calls for the local police to have remote access to state-mandated surveillance cameras at any future growing facilities.

    That future is not far off. The medical marijuana industry in Pennsylvania will be up and running in 2018, according to state Secretary of Health Karen Murphy. In preparation, municipalities such as Aston are passing pre-emptive zoning ordinances, aimed at limiting where growers and dispensaries can open up shop.

    At least a half a dozen municipalities in Bucks County have considered or passed ordinances related to potential operators seeking to locate within their bounds. Philadelphia City Council has also held hearings on the matter.

    At stake is the possibility of a piece brand-new industry, initially limited to a few locations and tempered by residents concerns about safety.

    The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which posted applications for growers and dispensers to its website last month, has put a cap of 12 grower/processors and 27 dispensaries it will permit in the “first phase” of its medical marijuana program. The law itself calls for no more than 25 growers and 50 dispensaries, statewide.

    The southeastern region of the state, which includes Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, Schuylkill, Berks and Lancaster Counties, has been allotted two growing permits and 10 dispensary permits.

    Where they’ll be located is still up in the air. Applications will be accepted from February 20th to March 20th, and will be followed by at least 90 days of review, according to John Collins, director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Medical Marijuana.

    Nine hundred applications are expected, according to a webinar released by the DOH, with each grower submitting a non-refundable application $10,000 fee.

    In that time, municipal leaders are examining their own boundaries and talking with their residents about how, and if, to welcome the industry.

    In Aston, that also means educating residents about what it looks like.

    “One myth that I feel like I need to put out there, because people keep asking, is that there are no open fields for this growing and producing,” said Beth Naughton-Beck, solicitor for Aston Township to a crowd of about 75 people at the zoning meeting. The industry is similar to the pharmaceutical industry in its oversight, regulation and safety, she said.

    “No one’s going to be walking out of there with baggies of joints,” said Naughton-Beck.

    Almost unanimously, Aston residents at the meeting expressed support for medical marijuana and the township’s signals that it would allow a grower to locate within its boundaries.

    “The main reason for medical marijuana is pain relief,” said resident and registered nurse Catherine Warren. “Currently, what’s legal for pain relief? Percocet, vicodin, oxycodone, oxycontin, not good stuff.”

    “I just want to thank you for being as progressive within the commonwealth for enacting what the governor has signed into law,” said resident Nicolas Spade.

    Only police officer Joe Pretti spoke against the possibility of locating a medical marijuana grower in the township, although he said he was glad for the ordinance.

    “Medical marijuana facilities do bring crime to your town,” he said, offering a fat manila folder of examples. “I’m not debating what it does for people, the processing facilities, dispensing, growers, it brings crime to every town from Washington, Colorado, New Mexico.” Those crimes, he said, were break-ins and other opportunistic attempts to liberate marijuana or money from lawful operators.

    Stigale said the township had received calls from potential operators feeling out interest, but that the township commissioners had not received any formal proposals from marijuana growers as of yet.

    So far, Aston hasn’t tackled its stance dispensaries, which are treated as a separate entity from growers under Pennsylvania law. Notably, an earlier proposal about a luxury apartment complex generated more angst from residents the the possibility of growing marijuana in their town.

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