Churchgoers and community leaders from Camp Springs are planning a protest rally while the Prince George's County Council considers zoning regulations for proposed medical cannabis dispensaries.
Leading the charge is the congregation of the Connect Church in the 5800 block of Allentown Way in Camp Springs.
Pastor Jonathan Allen is outraged after he says he was approached by an applicant for a dispensary license who is considering leasing a storefront directly next door to the church in the Allentown Plaza strip mall.
"It is outrageous for us," Allen said as he tapped the partition wall that would divide his church's youth facility and the proposed dispensary.
Allen and members of the Camp Springs Civic Association have launched an informational website and petition to oppose proposed changes to county zoning that would reduce the proximity of dispensaries from schools, parks, and residences from 500 feet to 300 feet. The ordinance offers no protection for churches.
The County Council will take up the measure Tuesday.
Council member Deni Taveras is a sponsor of the zoning ordinance proposal.
“I support progressive legislation to make medical cannabis available as an alternative to highly addictive prescription drugs, such as opiates. Medical cannabis is associated with the decriminalization of alternatives for vulnerable communities to access medicine," Taveras said. "The amendment permits a pool of eligible sites in the County while minimizing the impact on residential communities.”
Maryland is beginning the rollout of medical cannabis for individuals with doctor's prescriptions more than three years after a law was passed allowing it.
Statewide six vendors have received dispensary licenses. At least 102 applicants have passed initial evaluations for licenses. Seventeen thousand Marylanders have registered as medical marijuana patients.
Medical cannabis is expected to be available in the first dispensaries to open by the end of 2017.
Each House of Delegates District will be allowed, two licensees. In Prince George's County, that leaves room for 18 dispensaries. Localities have the power to use zoning to restrict where the businesses may operate.
"We have worked hard to get the right kind of businesses here," said Leon Turner of the Camp Springs Civic Association. "This is not what we need here."
Turner said the community is oversaturated with liquor stores and convenience marts. Cannabis dispensaries would make the situation worse, he believes.
The rally to protest a proposed dispensary in Camp Springs and the zoning changes is scheduled for Monday evening outside the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.