The site for the planned dispensary at 3317 Keswick Road.

Wyman Park and Hampden residents aren’t opposed to the idea of medical marijuana dispensaries coming to Baltimore. They just want to know, why does it have to be in their neighborhood?

Residents aired their grievances – and in some cases, their support – at a public meeting on Wednesday evening at the Keswick Multi-Care Center on W. 40th Street. Also in attendance were city Zoning Administrator Geoffrey Veale, City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger, and, to offer some context about the history of medical cannabis, Michael Collins of the pro-pot Drug Policy Alliance.

At issue for the North Baltimore neighborhood is a forthcoming dispensary planned for 3317 Keswick Road, most recently home to the Grand Voyager rock and art store. Clarke said the hopeful dispensary operators have entered into a six-year lease with the property owner.

Residents complained about the potential for increased drug use and property crime in their neighborhood, spurred by the presence of a store that sells medical weed. Some expressed support for having medical cannabis in Maryland – a good thing, since it’s been legal for three years now – but said they feared Keswick Road location would become a target for robberies.

Gene Meyer, who said he lives roughly 100 feet away from the building, pointed to research indicating violent crime is higher in parts of cities near highway ramps – like the exit for I-83 at the edge of Remington, for instance. He argued the planned dispensary’s proximity to the interstate would put the business and its customers at risk of robberies and other crimes.

“This is the wrong place,” he said.

Steve Martinez, who lives across an alley from the planned dispensary, pointed to research indicating public marijuana use is in neighborhoods with more businesses that sell cheap cigars used to roll blunts. The planned dispensary is adjacent to a 7-11.

Chris Carver, who lives in on Beech Drive near Wyman Park, speculated that Maryland’s medical pot law is “a gateway law for recreational use.”

“I don’t want to have to walk my grandchildren, my nieces, my nephews past that place when it turns recreational,” he said.

After Collins, of the Drug Policy Alliance, spoke briefly about the potential for medical cannabis in Maryland, Carver shot back, “do you have one in your backyard?” (Collins responded that he lives in Charles Village and wouldn’t care if someone opened one there. His neighborhood, like the rest of Baltimore, doesn’t have any dispensaries yet.)

Mary Pat Clarke addresses residents at the Keswick Multi-Care Center.

Others backed the plan to open a dispensary there. Neighborhood resident Dean Nettles noted that only people who get prescriptions for medical cannabis could be customers, and said that type of individual would likely be different from what he described as “a habitual weed smoker” buying from street dealers.

He also maintained Hampden is a “strong area” and would be better at keeping a respectful environment nearby, compared to other neighborhoods in the city that deal with more crime.

One woman who identified herself as Leah compared dispensaries to pharmacies, which dispense opioids and other drugs that can have more harmful public health effects – like deadly addictions – than cannabis. A dispensary is “essentially a pharmacy that dispenses only one product,” she said. “I think we need to have an open mind when it comes to this.”

Eileen, another neighbor, noted nearby Hampden has its fair share of problems with drug-related crime and addiction, and suggested cannabis could be used to wean addicts off of opioids. “We have so much drug-related crime in our community,” she said. “I wonder if this might actually help our community.”

Much of the meeting also centered on the issue of zoning. According to Veale, the city tried to take a “common sense approach” when crafting its newly implemented Transform Baltimore zoning law, categorizing dispensaries the same way as drug stores and pharmacies, and grow facilities as it does for industrial businesses.

As the medical marijuana industry has finally started to take shape, with nearly a dozen dispensaries announced earlier this year for Baltimore, Veale said the city’s position on zoning for dispensaries has stayed the same.

Clarke, who represents Wyman Park, said council members were never consulted about the issue of zoning specifically for medical marijuana businesses – and that it never came up during meetings – over two and a half years spent crafting the new zoning law: “Never did I hear the phrase medical marijuana or dispensary.”

She also corrected several residents who asked why the city would allow a dispensary to open in a residentially zoned area, noting that part of Keswick Road is zoned for residential and commercial use. A zoning map of the city shows it’s zoned C-1, which “ensures compatibility between neighboring residential and commercial uses,” according to a guide from the city’s planning department.

The Keswick Road location wouldn’t be the only medical marijuana business in that area. Another space on Falls Road near Wicked Sisters has been considered for a dispensary as well, which Clarke said she was surprised to learn.

Reisinger, chair of the City Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee, said the council plans to call a hearing to specifically address zoning for cannabis businesses later this summer.

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...