Did the City Screw Pot Cultivation Centers Through Zoning?
Sitting in on the Woodridge Civic Association's forum on the large number of medical marijuana cultivation centers angling to locate in their neck of the woods, it became abundantly clear that those who show up for these types of functions—who also tend to drive policy in D.C.—are not fans of the idea. Besides objections to the "message it sends to children," audience members said that pot facilities just add on to a pile of undesirable stuff, what with the strip clubs and municipal waste facilities that have also gravitated to the light industrial regions of Ward 5.
But there's a very simple reason why the vast majority of applications are associated with addresses in the neighborhoods around Brentwood and Ivy City: Zoning. Although dispensaries may be located anywhere a pharmacy could operate, the ten cultivation centers will be restricted to areas zoned for manufacturing, which according to a very interesting study from 2006, make up less than five percent of the city's landmass. There is essentially none of this kind of zoning in Northwest, outside of a thin strip on the C & O canal (there doesn't seem to be an easy way to display particular zoning categories with the District's mapping tools, so I've jury-rigged one above just to give you an idea of where it all goes).
On top of zoning rules, cultivation centers can't be located within 300 feet of any type of school or recreation center. Economics come into play, too—any place in Northwest will have much higher rent than any place in Northeast. And according to prospective operator Bobby Riggs of Northeast Wellness Inc., only about half of landlords are even willing to consider renting to a marijuana operation, especially since they're being shut down in California.
Because of how the regulations are set up, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions will have a large say in where marijuana facilities ultimately go. If ANC 5B, for example, rejects all the would-be proprietors point blank, it's not clear whether the Department of Health would be willing to override it.
The ironic part is that D.C.'s cultivation centers will hardly be industrial, in the traditional sense—they'll be restricted to 95 plants, and according to Riggs, only need between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet of space. There doesn't seem to be a particular imperative for them to be relegated to warehouse districts at all. But as the regulations are set up, they're forced to cluster in the very neighborhoods that have historically been most wounded by the illegal drug trade, and thus will fight even sanctioned marijuana with everything they've got.
I'm writing at more length about this next week. If you've got particular information or insight, get in touch.