Bensalem Council was close to an agreement on how to handle medical marijuana facilities last week with a proposed ordinance regulating them.
According to Bensalem Solicitor Joseph Pizzo, the current zoning code does not provide for the specific uses created by Act 16 of 2016, Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law. The proposed ordinance would create guidelines for growing and processing facilities and dispensaries if they were to end up in the township.
The main issue with the proposed ordinance was whether the 8,400-square-feet limit on growing and processing facilities would be enough to keep potential developers interested.
“We have the industrial space,” Councilman Bryan Allen said, suggesting that bringing this industry to Bensalem could be a boon to the local economy. “I did talk to a few industry people and they said with the 8,400 square feet, they wouldn’t even look at Bensalem because that’s just way too restrictive.”
According to Pizzo, that was the original designation given by the township’s Building and Planning department when the ordinance was first being drafted at the end of last year.
“We could amend this ordinance at any time,” Councilman Joseph Pileri said, meaning that the square-foot requirement could be adjusted at a later date.
The issue was ultimately pushed to council’s Feb. 13 meeting so members could have more time to shore up requirements to make sure they are in line with industry standards. Developers would have to come before council for approval before any major steps could be taken.
Other Bucks municipalities including Lower Southampton, Warminster, Falls, Middletown and Northampton townships have put similar ordinances in place already. With the state accepting applications for grower/processor facilities and dispensaries starting in late February, there’s an impetus for Bensalem to get something on the books soon.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is expected to start issuing permits in spring — 12 grower/processor permits and 27 for dispensaries. Bucks County is included in Medical Marijuana Region 1, where two of the grower/processor permits will be distributed. Region 1 also includes Berks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties.
For dispensaries, council agreed on regulations set in the proposed ordinance. It outlines that they can be located in the general commercial district, but not within 1,000 feet of residential properties, schools, day-care centers, places of worship, public parks, libraries or community centers, or within 2,000 feet of substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation facilities.
The ordinance also limits hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and prohibits people under the age of 18 to enter unless accompanied by a caregiver. There would be requirements for security, no outdoor or drive-thru sales and other regulations.
As drafted, the ordinance had similar requirements for grower/processor facilities. They would also be limited to the township’s general industrial district, located primarily in areas near the intersection of Street and State roads.