Bensalem passes medical marijuana ordinance with minor changes

After discussion in two previous meetings, Bensalem Council passed an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries and growing and processing facilities during its Feb. 13 meeting.

The ordinance remains similar to the one previously discussed in January, but with a few minor tweaks.

Instead of regulating business hours as a whole for grower/processors, the ordinance will regulate deliveries to and shipments from facilities in the hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

It also changed the wording of the original ordinance to allow for patients who are prescribed medical marijuana by a physician to consume the medication on grower/processor premises if it was obtained through a dispensary consistent with the laws of Pennsylvania. Members of council decided on this change after discussing the possibility of a worker at the facility being prescribed the medication as part of his or her healthcare regimen.

The new ordinance also took out the requirement that dispensaries shall not be operated within 1,000 feet of residences, because, as Solicitor Joseph Pizzo said, that would be a “de facto prohibition” on having them in the township.

Distance requirements from schools, daycare centers, places of worship, public parks, libraries and community centers still exist.

Council also removed the 8,400-square-foot limit on growing and processing facilities that was originally part of the ordinance.

“Based upon the available buildings that one might rent or buy in the township … having that square footage restriction made little to no sense,” Pizzo said.

Ed Kisselback said he, Mayor Joe DiGirolamo and Councilman Tony Belfield checked out some available properties in the township’s industrial zone a few days before the meeting.

“We have a number of locations that would be available for anyone if they were to come in with permits that would meet the requirements, regardless of how big or small they wanted, whether it be a 40,000-square-foot building, up to a 100,000-square-foot building,” Kisselback said.

The other requirements mirror the state statute governing medical marijuana facilities for the most part, Pizzo said.

Before the vote was cast, Bensalem resident Bernard Wurtzbacher thanked council for its consideration on the issue and spoke in support of bringing medical marijuana facilities to the township.

He talked about his fiance’s experience with her grandmother, who recently passed away from ALS.

“There are a lot of communities going about this in a poor way,” Wurtzbacher said. “When her grandmother was going through what she was going through, a lot of doctors were recommending this, but under the radar.”

Wurtzbacher discussed the county’s opioid epidemic and how it relates to medical marijuana. A lot of doctors prescribe opioids to deal with pain conditions, he said, and medical marijuana could provide patients with certain conditions another option.

“If handled properly and respectfully, it could be a very good thing for our community,” Wurtzbacher said.

When he finished, council took a vote and passed the ordinance unanimously.

“Bensalem has always looked for the positive in this,” Councilman Joseph Pileri said.

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