Marijuana dispensaries push back against Philly’s recreational zoning ban

Medical marijuana dispensary operators say zoning that prohibits recreational sales in some Philly neighborhoods would curb economic growth.

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Close-up of Philadelphia City Councilmember Brian J. O'Neill

Philadelphia City Councilmember Brian J. O'Neill has proposed a bill amending two zoning overlay districts to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

If new zoning rules proposed by Philadelphia City Councilmember Brian O’Neill are approved in the coming months, several medical marijuana dispensaries across Northeast Philadelphia will be cut out of the future recreational market.

Councilmember O’Neill introduced a bill to amend two zoning overlay districts to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana.

There are already three medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the area that spans from Pine Road to the west and Castor Avenue to the south bounded by the Delaware River along the eastern edge.

A third zoning overlay in Philadelphia Councilmember Curtis Jones’ district along City Avenue was included in the proposed ban.

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Adult-use recreational marijuana is not yet legal across Pennsylvania but Gov. Josh Shapiro supports legalization and has already proposed a 20% tax on it. For the past few years, Pa. state Sen. Sharif Street, a Democrat, and Republican state Sen. Dan Laughlin have filed bipartisan legislation to legalize recreational marijuana but have not yet been successful.

O’Neill did not respond to WHYY News for this story.

Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Chair Jamie Ware was disappointed by the legislation.

Ware says that legal medical marijuana operators spent millions on building the dispensaries and investing in heightened security measures.

Businesses have already signed leases, some upwards of 10 years with landlords, Ware said.

“We’re really stuck,” she said. “Our members affected by the ordinance, I can say, are disappointed because we were really not able to work through the process of community engagement nor really have any meaningful discussions with council before the ordinance passed.”

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It’s not the first time Philadelphia City Council has proposed restrictions on where legal marijuana may be sold.

In 2019, legislation introduced by Jones limited where medical marijuana dispensaries could open in his district, from sections of City Line Avenue within city limits to Schuylkill Expressway.

At the time, Jones said he was not opposed to medical marijuana but was concerned about clusters of dispensaries in one neighborhood.

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