Medical Marijuana Entrepreneurs May Have to Wait for Zoning Laws to Catch Up

Baltimore County recently became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to enact comprehensive zoning rules for medical marijuana facilities.  Under zoning laws, uses are generally permitted rather than prohibited.  That is to say, a business owners may only engage in uses that are specifically permitted in a given zone and a use that is not permitted is, for all intents and purposes, effectively prohibited in the particular zone.  This framework can cause issues when a new business use for a parcel is presented.  While it may be consistent with other uses, if the relevant authorities had not previously contemplated the likelihood that someone would even desire to engage in that use, it could be not permitted under the relevant zoning laws.

A good example of this can be seen in the rise of craft breweries, which can fit into multiple general uses — from industrial to retail — but which were not permitted in many zoning codes, in many cases simply because no one considered that anyone would want to engage in such a use.

Which brings us back to medical marijuana.  In 2014, Maryland became the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana and later this year will begin accepting applications and issuing dispensary licenses.  That leads to the question, however, of where these dispensaries may be located.  As discussed above, if the local zoning does not allow for them, the fact that the state has legalized them may not matter. For example, a  firm client who owns a shopping center recently turned away a potential tenant who wished to operate a dispensary because it was concluded that the local zoning did not include such dispensaries as a permitted use.

That is why Baltimore County’s action on this matter is such a big deal.  Medical marijuana and other legalized marijuana sales and distribution promises to be a huge industry.  As other Maryland cities and counties turn to this issue, medical marijuana entrepreneurs will have to keep an eye on which will facilitate the growth of industry, and which will say it is not welcome in their neck of the woods.

Planning a Brewery? Think Zoning Zoning Zoning

Have you ever wondered why Annapolis, our state’s fair capital city, does not have any craft breweries?  After all, Frederick and Baltimore are home to multiple world class craft beer producers.  Well, the answer is both simple and amazing:  the zoning codes of the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County do not include brewing beer as a permitted use.  That means, essentially, there is no building or parcel of land in the entire city or county for which brewing is permitted.

Although, at least as it relates to the County, that may change this year.

This change, if it came, would be thanks in large parts to the efforts of two Maryland brewers — one aspiring and one established — the latter of which who was foreclosed from his first choice of Anne Arundel County and therefore opened his highly successful Jailbreak Brewing (outstanding, by the way) in the more welcoming Howard County instead.  Their efforts, and a few receptive local officials, has prompted a proposal to change to the county’s zoning laws to open the door to brewing in the county.  As a recent news article indicates, the door is not opening all that wide just yet, but it is a start.

Of course, this serves as an important reminder of how although state laws regarding beer making — be it by production breweries, microbreweries or farm breweries — get a lot of the attention, it is often the minutiae of local zoning ordinances and county alcoholic beverage laws that delineate the ability of people to make, sample, and sell their beer.