The North Cornwall Township Zoning Hearing Board unanimously voted to approve Keystone ReLeaf LLC’s appeal request for the municipality’s zoning ordinance.
This decision will allow a medical marijuana dispensary to operate by special exception at the proposed site, 1600 W. Cumberland St., which is zoned for highway commercial (C-1) use.
The public hearing was held on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the new North Cornwall Township Municipal Building, 330 S. 18th St.
Keystone ReLeaf LLC attorney Seth R. Tipton provided some context behind the hearing.
In mid-2017, Keystone ReLeaf LLC applied for two medical marijuana dispensary licenses and was denied. Keystone ReLeaf LLC appealed the denials, and a district hearing in late 2018 determined the licenses should have been granted. The commonwealth appealed that decision, and Keystone ReLeaf LLC appeared before the court in late 2019.
The parties reached a settlement in principle prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately reached a settlement agreement in late 2022 through the commonwealth court mediation process. The commonwealth issued Keystone ReLeaf LLC a right to a license this August.
In the process of reaching a settlement agreement, the commonwealth identified southcentral Pennsylvania as an underserved area. Keystone ReLeaf LLC agreed to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the area and save $40,000 yearly to a restricted account for lower-income medical marijuana patients.
Early this summer, Keystone ReLeaf LLC contacted the landlord, evaluated the site’s potential to be a medical marijuana dispensary, and entered a lease agreement contingent on the special exception. Keystone ReLeaf LLC plans to make improvements to the building.
A second and third location will be opened in southcentral Pennsylvania outside of Lebanon County. Other than not allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to open within 1,000 feet of school grounds, there are no location limitations for licenses, unlike liquor licensing.
Keystone ReLeaf LLC met with the North Cornwall Township zoning officer and public works officer, submitted an application complete with a proposed site and floor plan, and walked through the requirements of the zoning ordinance and special exception at the public hearing.
The 3,200-square-foot site shares the building and parking lot with a beer distributor and laundromat owned and operated by the landlord. The proposed site is the former site of the Union Beer House and is currently vacant, with the improvements that existed while the beer house was in operation having since been removed.
The lease agreement designates 15 parking spaces for the medical marijuana dispensary, leaving nine parking spaces for the other two businesses. In a site plan from 2001, relief for parking requirements was granted due to several parking spaces being removed for clear sight.
There are no changes to traffic patterns as the proposed use of the site will be replacing another use. The existing traffic patterns have served three prior uses.
The medical marijuana dispensary will be open sometime between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with some hours being offered before and after the traditional work day.
Regarding how many professionals will be working at the dispensary, Tipton said the exact number will be determined for the operational plan but estimated five to seven employees in total – at least one administrator at the front desk, one pharmacist or physician either in-person or virtual, one salesperson, and one security professional.
Use of the dispensary starts when patients scan their cards to enter. They wait in a queue at the front desk, where their eligibility is verified. The waiting room at this dispensary is planned to be about 450 square feet to prevent the line from forming outside the building.
Patients are often required to sign patient agreements, and they are entered into a statewide database that records the amount prescribed and how often it is prescribed, as well as diversion, failure to comply with dispensary rules, and criminal activity.
Patients are then let into an area with no open sales racks. Here, employees not visible to patients send their prescriptions through a secure portal. Patients pay and exit. They are permitted to purchase a 90-day supply and can only refill their prescriptions with a seven-day supply remaining.
Tipton said the initial visit involves a consultation with the pharmacist or physician on a course of care, typically the longest visit at around 15 to 20 minutes. Although it varies, subsequent visits tend to drop to around seven or eight minutes.
Tipton said the security requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries are “extraordinary” and include an enclosed delivery area, a single, secure public entrance, professionally monitored security alarm systems that capture entrances, exits, and rooms with exterior windows and walls, motion sensors, and silent and audible alarm signals.
Professionals can track cannabis through its entire life cycle, from a plant to a prescription. The product packaging must also meet security, advertising, and labeling requirements before being sold to patients.
The medical marijuana dispensary will not offer drive-thru or home delivery services. There will be no outdoor vending machines or seating areas as on-site consumption – even opening a package on the grounds – will not be permitted, and it would jeopardize the license if allowed.
Large signage will also be posted inside the front door, stating those under 18 are not allowed inside the building, outside consumption and loitering are not permitted, and patients will be under video surveillance at all times.
Screening from adjoining properties is provided by a creek and wooded area situated to the site’s rear, and Keystone ReLeaf LLC has a consent letter from the landlord, who believes the dispensary will have no negative implications on the other two businesses. The only screening that does not exist and is not possible to add is a result of clear sight requirements.
In addition to questions posed by the zoning hearing board throughout the hearing, two local business owners voiced their concerns about how the dispensary could impact their businesses and patrons during a question-and-answer session offered near the end of the hearing.
If Pennsylvania were to legalize recreational use of marijuana, medical marijuana dispensaries would have to appeal the zoning ordinances at their local municipalities. Tipton said that in New Jersey, more than half of the municipalities in these situations have not voted in approval.
The only elements that can change with medical marijuana dispensaries under Pennsylvania law are the eligible medical conditions and the medicinal delivery devices, which currently include whole flour, tinctures, lozenges, and pressed pills. Edibles are not currently permitted.
Keystone ReLeaf LLC’s right to a license from the commonwealth is provisional, not operational. Since the zoning hearing board granted them a special exception, they are able to submit a formal application to the Department of Health. If they meet the requirements, they will be issued an operational license and will be able to make the planned improvements.
Once the build-up is complete, commonwealth officials will conduct a final inspection to ensure that the medical marijuana dispensary meets the security requirements and that all employees are badged. Routine and random inspections will be conducted by the commonwealth yearly, as well as inspections conducted by the operators on a monthly and daily basis.
Keystone ReLeaf LLC plans to provide the operational plan approved by the commonwealth to the municipality and a proposed and approved security plan to the municipality and police.
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