Budding prospects

Town planners ponder regulations for prospective medicinal marijuana businesses


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By John Haughey
— There aren't any formal or even any preliminary, maybe, sorta, perhaps proposals for a medicinal marijuana-growing business in Warwick.

So it's not surprising that such a prospect was, at first, casually dismissed by several Warwick Town Planning Board members Wednesday before, after a pause, they acknowledged such a proposal may actually soon materialize before them.

In July, New York became the 23rd state to legalize the production of medicinal marijuana. The state plans to license five operators to produce and dispense the medical marijuana. Each could operate up to four dispensaries.

On Aug. 20, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus told the Times Herald-Record that he, as well as representatives of the Orange County Partnership and the county's Industrial Development Agency, have spoken to three landowners - including at least one in Warwick - who want to apply for a state medicinal marijuana license.

Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton also told the Record that a Warwick resident with "financial backing" has approached him with a plan to build a medicinal marijuana plant in a "former warehouse in the Pine Island area."

No state guidelines - yet
But there's a lot of regulatory weed-whacking - so to speak - ahead before such proposals can be presented to local municipalities for review, Warwick Town Planning Board Chairman Ben Astorino said.

"We'd have to see an application before us" before the board could even speculate on how to proceed, he said.

Planning Board Attorney John Bollenbach said the state's Department of Health, which will issue the licenses, has not issued even a preliminary outline of its medicinal marijuana requirements. It could take up to 18 months for the state to develop its regulations.

Until then, Bollenbach said, it's difficult to discuss what regulatory accommodations may be necessary on the local level to approve medicinal marijuana proposals.

"It would depend on still undefined state guidelines and on the specific proposal," he said. "Is it hydrophonic, indoors? If so, that would be more manufacturing. Is it outdoors? That could be an agricultural use."

Agricultural or commercial use?

A grow operation would need to be outdoors and at least 10 acres to meet the criteria in Warwick as an agricultural use. Most legal medicinal marijuana operations are indoors.

"It does sound more like manufacturing," Astorino said, noting the board would undoubtedly require medicinal marijuana businesses meet stringent security requirements.

And, regardless what regulations the state imposes, a prospective medicinal marijuana business would have to meet Warwick's town criteria for things like signage, design, parking and landscaping, board member Roger Showalter said.

While a proposed medicinal marijuana business is only a whisper, several suggested the town to review land-use codes now to make any local license applicant more viable in a state selection process for five licenses, similar to the competition among 22 applicants for four casino licenses from the state.

"But," board member John MacDonald said, "this will be a mellower conversation."

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