What Will The Medical Marijuana Trade Look Like …

By Adrienne Fawcett

In response to the new Illinois law legalizing medical marijuana, Lake County created a “Medical Cannabis Zoning Task Force,” which recently released model zoning regulations for local medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries. These are guidelines – not law — but they provide a glimpse of what the local medical marijuana trade might – and might not — look like in the year or years to come.

For starters, if the model regulations are followed, Lake County towns won’t look like communities such as Venice Beach, Calif., that are crowded with neon signs promoting “Medical Marijuana Doctors” adjacent to storefront pharmacies dispensing the drug. In Lake County if the task force’s model regulations are followed, medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation center signage won’t even say marijuana — or cannabis, pot, weed, joint, Mary Jane, ganja, reefer or any other word or image used to describe the drug or identify the property as a marijuana facility.

Click on the following to read the task force’s model regulations:

After reviewing the documents, I had several questions, which I posed to Eric Waggoner, director of Lake County’s planning, building and development department. If you have any more thoughts or questions, please let me know and I’ll ask Waggoner and add the responses to this Q&A:

GazeboNews: Can you explain what you mean by “model zoning regulations”? Is this a draft? Are they guidelines?

Waggoner: The two files are the model regulations for medical cannabis dispensaries and cultivation centers and were designed as a template for each Task Force community’s individual drafting of regulations; each community is or will soon be in the process of drafting its own ordinance using the model regulations for guidance.

The model was jointly created by a multi-jurisdiction group of local government representatives from among Lake County staff and over two thirds of the County’s municipalities. At the table were local law enforcement (County and municipal), planners, village administrators, and other staff. The model doesn’t have to be followed by the County and municipalities when each creates its own standards, but it is intended to be used as a helpful guideline as each community drafts and adopts its own regulations for medical cannabis facilities.

GazeboNews: It looks like the model regulations suggest that medical marijuana distributors or cultivators can’t be in a strip mall or office building—or any building with other tenants or a shared parking lot. Can you provide an example of where they can be located?

Waggoner: Single use property would mean that the medical cannabis facility could be the only use/activity on the whole property. So a strip-mall or multi-tenant office building on a single property would not be an allowed location for a dispensary or cultivation center under that term. (As to your question about parking lots, a medical cannabis facility with its own individual parking lot for staff and patients is permitted, but a facility could not share a parking lot with another use/activity on an adjacent property or be located on the same lot as a commercial pay-to-park lot.)

GazeboNews: If signs can’t use the words cannabis or marijuana … what words can they use?

Waggoner: Dispensary signage is intended to be restricted to basic property identification information to ensure that prescribed patients are able to locate their designated dispensary facility. Any “advertising” function would be unnecessary because only prescribed patients (and/or their caregivers) that have been assigned the specific dispensary can access the facility to acquire medical cannabis. This approach was consistent with the Task Force’s best-practice research of other states’ municipal ordinances for medical cannabis.

GazeboNews: Can you explain what a sign for a medical marijuana facility might look like?

Waggoner: An example of property identification information would be just an address listing, such as “1200 Springfield Boulevard” with no images depicting cannabis or its use, which is enough information for the patient and/or the designated caregiver to locate the property and local law enforcement or other first responders to identify the property.

GazeboNews: How many dispensaries and cultivation centers will be allowed in Lake County?

Waggoner: “The State Statute allows only one cultivation center for each State Police District. Our State Police District encompasses Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and DeKalb. Hence, at most one cultivation center could be allowed within the County, subject to local government zoning regulations (County and municipal), the Statute’s required cultivation center buffers (for residential zones, schools and day care centers) and the State’s licensing process.

The potential number and distribution of dispensaries throughout Lake County is more uncertain: as with cultivation centers, each Illinois county and municipality must allow dispensaries subject to local zoning regulation and the Statute’s protected use buffers (for day care centers and schools). However, the State’s geographical distribution of up to 60 available dispensary licenses must only be ‘reasonable’, a less clearly defined standard than the Statute’s State Police District-based distribution for cultivation centers. We will be monitoring the State’s development of its Administrative Rules in the coming weeks and months to see whether any more clarity emerges on that particular issue.

GazeboNews: In the documents, what does “insert local buffering requirements” mean”?

Waggoner: Most of the language (for example signage, on-site security, etc.) is standardized for consistent use by the entire group of Task Force communities; such model standards are the product of best-practices research by the Task Force and are considered largely appropriate (with little modification) across all the participating jurisdictions. Such standardized language appears in black.

In contrast, the “insert” language that’s highlighted in red represents areas of regulation that are not intended for broad standardization, and which require individual community-by-community approaches. The most significant example is the buffer language you refer to below. The Statute provides that each local government may enact “reasonable” zoning regulations but cannot “unreasonably prohibit” medical cannabis facilities within its jurisdiction. Because each community’s existing land use patterns and geographical distribution of zoning districts is unique to itself, the combination of buffering and zoning district allowances for medical cannabis facilities that results in a “reasonable” distribution of such facilities is by necessity a unique exercise by each such community. Consequently, when one compares individual village draft ordinances as they’re introduced for public review in the coming weeks, one will see a lot of consistency in the standardized portions of the ordinance but a much wider range of approaches in the individualized sections.

GazeboNews: How old do you have to be to get a prescription for medical marijuana in Illinois?

Waggoner: Prescribed patients must be 18 years or older.

GazeboNews: Are there restrictions on how much marijuana a person can purchase with a prescription?

Waggoner: Prescriptions are limited to 2.5 ounces of useable cannabis for every 14 day period.

GazeboNews: Any restrictions on how big cultivation centers can be and/or how much marijuana they can cultivate and package?

Waggoner: The size of cultivation centers is not limited in size by the Statute but local governments may choose to place such limits on facilities. Because of the Statute’s limit on the number of such facilities (one per state police district), it is anticipated that such facilities will be large in order to meet potential demand.

GazeboNews: Does the county approve applications from people wanting to get into the medical marijuana business, or is that handled at the municipal level?

Waggoner: Once the State’s licensing program goes live, prospective dispensary and cultivation center owners would seek local approval from either county or municipal governments, depending on the jurisdiction within which they propose to locate, in addition to applying for their required state licenses.

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