Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Laurie Avocado CC BY 2.0

With 11 dispensaries set to arrive soon in the city limits, lawmakers thought it’d be worthwhile to let people know how they were picked, what neighborhood zoning codes allow and other details about how the state’s medical cannabis program is materializing in Baltimore.

The city council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing at 1 p.m. today in City Hall to discuss the arrival of medical marijuana dispensaries and growers. An agenda for the meeting says members will call on state officials, the zoning administrator for Baltimore, Geoffrey Veale, and planning department officials to explain how licensees were picked, when the dispensaries plan to open, local zoning rules and how the businesses will affect community master plans.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission said Executive Director Patrick Jameson would attend the hearing.

The proceeding comes more than a month after Councilman Ed Reisinger promised one during a meeting of disgruntled Wyman Park residents in North Baltimore. Neighbors convened at the Keswick Multi-Care Center on July 27 to ask lawmakers how local laws allowed a dispensary to take out a lease on a vacant business at 3317 Keswick Road, backing up to some residents’ homes and adjacent to a 7-11.

Veale explained that the city decided in its new zoning law to zone for dispensaries the same way it does for pharmacies and drug stores. Growing facilities, by comparison, will be allowed in areas zoned only for industrial use.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke told dwellers in her district that the question of what to do for dispensaries never came up during the two-plus years’ worth of planning sessions for the new law, dubbed Transform Baltimore.

“Never did I hear the phrase medical marijuana or dispensary,” she said.

The controversy surrounding Keswick Road’s upcoming dispensary could be replicated in other neighborhoods. The 3300 block of the street is zoned C-1 for residential and commercial use, a designation used for many neighborhood business districts.

Baltimore County decided to take a different approach in 2015, adopting a law specifying where legal weed businesses can set up shop. As the Sun reported, under the unanimously approved ordinance, dispensaries are permitted in business districts if they sit 500 feet from schools and 2,500 feet from one another. Those that want to open up in one of the county’s 17 commercial revitalization districts need to obtain a special exception. Growers and processors will be allowed in industrial areas, similarly to what the city allows.

Another issue that will likely come up is the diversity of the state commission’s picks for growers. None of the 15 businesses approved for lucrative grower’s licenses last summer are African-American-owned, even though state law instructed the commission to factor diversity into its selections. Several companies that were skipped over sued the commission for its decision-making process, one of them alleging racial discrimination.

The lawsuit temporarily delayed the commission from granting final licenses this summer, though the state’s top court ended that after two weeks. The body has since awarded 12 growers full licenses, and granted two others extensions this week, per the Sun’s Erin Cox. The commission denied approval to one company in Dorchester earlier this summer, citing concerns about its parent company.

Black lawmakers are pushing for an overhaul of the licensing process next legislative session. Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered his administration to conduct a diversity study, the results of which leaders in Annapolis are awaiting before they move to alter the licensing process next year.

Today’s land use hearing about medical marijuana businesses will begin at 1 p.m. in the council chambers.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...