Bensalem Council members discussed passing an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana facilities in the township during their meeting last week.
This is not a new idea for Lower Bucks municipalities. Since Pennsylvania legislators passed the Medical Marijuana Act last year, Warminster, Lower Southampton, Falls Township and Northampton have passed ordinances to regulate zoning for growing and processing facilities as well as medical marijuana dispensaries.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is expected to set its own regulations before the program is fully implemented, which is slated to take about 18 months.
Preliminary regulations have already been set by the state, including keeping dispensaries 1,000 feet from schools or daycare facilities. The regulations also do not permit the dispensaries to operate inside the same physical space or area of another commercial property operating as a retail business or adjacent to businesses that share an exit or entrance, which would take away the possibility of dispensaries being in malls.
More detailed regulations will be released in the coming weeks.
“If we are proactive and set parameters within our community, it will be more effective than reacting to parameters that are being set (by the state) and trying to confine our requirements to those restrictions,” Bensalem Solicitor Edward Rudolph said. “There’s no downside to us staking our position now.”
Council members did kick around some requirements listed in the draft ordinance provided by Rudolph, like restricting the facilities from being near schools, places of worship, public parks, playgrounds and other similar areas.
Other ideas were limiting hours to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for growers and processors, surrounding them with fencing and limiting size to 8,400 square feet, among other requirements.
The draft ordinance also had specific requirements for dispensaries, like no drive-thru service, no outdoor seating, limits on product storage, an approved plan for waste removal and others.
Councilman Joseph Pilleri brought up the increase in cigarette shops and convenience stores in the township due to taxes levied on cigarettes and soda in Philadelphia. He questioned whether council could limit the amount of medical marijuana facilities in the township.
“If the city of Philadelphia decides they’re going to limit it, guess where they’re coming? Here to Bensalem, so I’d rather get that in now,” he said.
“I would have it on a barge in the Delaware if it was up to me,” Council President Joseph Knowles joked.
Some council members could see a positive in the new industry having a foothold in the township.
“There are other things we actually don’t want. This could be a job creator,” Councilman Bryan Allen said, and explained that the dispensaries would be able to sell only non-intoxicating CBD oil, not marijuana in its smokable plant form.
“We don’t want to make Bensalem unattractive if we have vacant industrial space,” Allen continued. “I’d rather have this than something that’s going to bring smokestacks or trucks with constant noise pollution.”
Council members also discussed issues of security, noting that the regulations, if set, should outline requirements to make sure the facilities are secure.
“At the end of the day, you’re growing marijuana plants and processing them at the facility and converting that into the oil … there’s a possibility for abuse, a possibility for criminal activity,” Councilman Tony Belfield said. “Banks are full of money and they’re subject to crime sometimes.”
Council did not approve any ordinance during the meeting, as the discussion led to more questions about how the township should regulate these facilities.
Members agreed to revisit the issue during their meeting scheduled for Jan. 25 so there can be more time to consider the implications of passing such an ordinance. ••