Prince George’s Co. passed new restrictions on cannabis dispensaries — but how long will it last?

The Prince George’s County Council passed new restrictions aimed at limiting where cannabis dispensaries can operate. But one state lawmaker from a neighboring jurisdiction is unhappy with the new ordinance and the council that passed it. The county law might not stand for very long anyway.

The bill that passed in Largo this week is somewhat of a middle ground between a faction that sees the economic intent of the legalization of cannabis — empowering minority business owners who stand to get rich off the licenses to sell those products — and one that is wary of dispensaries and wanted to banish them to industrial areas in the county. In the end, the council didn’t go that far.

Technically, dispensaries can be permitted in industrial and commercial areas, though restrictions, including one that prohibits dispensaries within 2,000 feet of a liquor store, add hurdles to a n already difficult process.

As it is, many commercial shopping centers won’t lease to dispensaries because their financing prohibits them, since at the federal level, this is still considered an illegal drug. But ahead of the vote earlier this week, Eddie Pounds, an Annapolis-based lobbyist who represents a handful of cannabis licensees, explained some of the additional difficulties his clients have been dealing with in the county.

“It’s a local cannabis dispensary operator that has been looking for a site to locate its dispensary in Prince George’s County for more than two years now. In fact, they’ve looked at over 200 sites and have struck out each time for various reasons, primarily due to zoning restrictions,” said Pounds at a council meeting on Tuesday, who nevertheless applauded the approval of the new law after seeing previous proposals.

However, he said several other, newer license holders, all of them minorities, will soon face the same struggle.

That has Charles County Delegate and House Economic Matters Committee Chair C.T. Wilson emboldened that his proposed legislation could fix this.

Wilson shepherded a bill through Annapolis that would override local control of cannabis zoning if the governor signs it into law.

“These are multimillion-dollar minority businesses. They’re going to be coming into the county and not only attracting decent paying jobs, but also a tax base,” Wilson said. “And to have the county that’s going to be one of the most benefiting counties, when it comes to the taxes and the money coming back to the community, be the one pushing back is a problem.”

Wilson also noted legalized cannabis passed overwhelmingly in Prince George’s County. But concern about the number of smoke shops and liquor stores already operating in the county had some members of the council wary about the impact dispensaries would have on their neighborhoods. Wilson blames the council for that.

“The locals messed up on these liquor store placements. The local elected officials messed up on all the smoke shops, and now they’re trying to punish these minority business owners, these Black business owners, by saying you have to be that far (2,000 feet) from a liquor store,” Wilson told WTOP.

“There’s nowhere in Prince George’s County that’s that far from a liquor store and still not in a residential area. So they have basically done what I was worried that some of the white-majority counties were going to do and zone it out of their entire county. It’s intellectually dishonest,” he added.

Throughout the legislative process at the county level, the council referred to and acknowledged what they were doing might end up being fruitless. And it will be if the governor signs it into law.

A statement from Gov. Wes Moore’s office said a decision about the statewide zoning ordinance for cannabis dispensaries has not been made yet, and that Moore was still reviewing things. But Wilson is optimistic his bill, which passed in the state House and Senate with overwhelming support, will become law.

“We’re creating Black millionaires who are going to try and create Black jobs,” Wilson said.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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