September 08, 2016
In April, Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation to make medical marijuana legal in Pennsylvania.
By then, possession of small amounts of marijuana had already been decriminalized in Philadelphia for more than a year.
And with full implementation of the state's medical marijuana law expected to take about two years, City Council is asking now just what it all means for Philadelphia.
On Friday, its Committee on Public Health and Human Services will hold a hearing with the legislative sponsors of the medical marijuana act and experts on the cannabis industry to discuss its implications for the city. They will include state Sen. Daylin Leach of Montgomery County, state Sen. Mike Folmer of Lebanon County and the new head of the state Office of Medical Marijuana, John J. Collins.
"Public hearings are held not just to come up with policy and, possibly, legislation. It is a hearing and a chance for the public to be engaged," said Councilman-at-Large Derek Green, during an interview on Wednesday. "We need to start thinking about how this will impact the city."
Green said that while the city permits individuals in Philadelphia to possess under 30 grams of marijuana without fear of arrest, the medical marijuana law could potentially bring marijuana growth operations and dispensaries into the city.
One concern voiced by Green is that such places could present a fire hazard. High-powered lights and electricity and older Philadelphia structures has the potential to be a dangerous combination, he said.
Pennsylvania law will allow for as many as 150 dispensaries — each applicant is permitted to operate up to three dispensaries on each of the 50 available licenses — and the bill permits the issuing of 25 permits for marijuana growers/processors.
"Where are these people going to locate?" asked the councilman.
Green said that the city might need to look at its own zoning regulations because he'd assume "at first blush" that growers and processors would require industrial zoning. But that might not be the best fit.
In residential areas, Clark said, he would worry that a dispensary had the potential to become a public safety issue, as a potential fire hazard or as a draw for criminals looking for a quick way to score cash and a, potentially, large supply of the drug.
Green has done some preliminary research, however, and he believes that in Colorado — recreational marijuana has been legal there since 2012 — dispensaries have a "pharmacy-type atmosphere." Law enforcement officials indicate that these operations don't negatively impact public safety.
"So I see this [hearing] as a first step," Green said.
As a first-class city, Philadelphia is in a unique position to help shape state policy on medical marijuana, according to Green.
"We know it's going to have a significant impact on the city of Philadelphia," he said.
Green also touted the fact that legal medical marijuana allows for more research to be done on the medical benefits of the drug. Philadelphia, with such a strong "eds and meds" community — colleges and hospitals — the city could really help society learn more about those medical uses, he said.
"So far, there has been very little research at all on medical marijuana," said Green. "These are the things we are going to have to look at."
Green noted, too, that as medical marijuana becomes more easily available in the city and state, there could be ancillary businesses that arise. Green said he wants to be prepared for this possibility as well.
"I've always been the type of person that says 'let's be proactive'," said Green.
Green compared the steadily growing acceptance of marijuana nationwide to that of legalized gambling in the past. He said as states began to see the fiscal benefit of gambling, they moved beyond concerns they may have had in initially opposing gambling.
He believes marijuana could be handled in a similar fashion.
Friday's hearing, at 10 a.m. at City Hall, is open to the public.