Philadelphia City Council passed a bill Thursday to ban any new medical marijuana dispensaries from opening along several commercial corridors in northwestern Philadelphia.
Amending the city’s zoning code, the law prevents any further marijuana retailers from operating on City Avenue from the Schuylkill Expressway west.
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who represents the 4th District, introduced the ordinance in November. It was approved unanimously, and now awaits Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature.
The proposal opens up the possibility of similar bans in other parts of the city, potentially restricting registered patients’ access to medical marijuana. Such a ban could also lead to expensive lawsuits from companies that have invested millions of dollars to win permits to operate dispensaries in the state.
Presently there is one cannabis store open on City Avenue, a Cure Dispensary that opened in November inside a former Jennifer Convertibles showroom.
The proposal, if it becomes law, could disrupt a plans for a Curaleaf dispensary at 5058 City Ave., two blocks from the Cure facility, according to a spokesperson for Jones.
Curaleaf, a multi-state operator based in Massachusetts, does not yet have a permit to grow or sell marijuana in Pennsylvania — applicants are still required to show that they have a property available. The Department of Health said it could not comment. Representatives for Curaleaf did not respond to requests to discuss the matter.
According to Jones, local residents worry about cannabis outlets multiplying along the corridor. Another marijuana dispensary is slated to open on the Bala Cynwyd side of City Avenue in a former pancake restaurant.
“Many of the people who protested are OK with marijuana use, and most were OK with one dispensary,” Jones said.
“But when you put one hot dog stand on a block, and then add two more hot dog stands, then you’re known for hot dogs,” Jones said.
Jones added that neighbors fear that medical marijuana dispensaries could be converted into recreational weed shops if the state legalizes cannabis for adult use.
Still, advocates were distressed about the ordinance and worried that the law could be further amended to prevent dispensaries from opening in other parts of the city.
“Medical marijuana dispensaries shouldn’t be banned from any neighborhood in Philadelphia, period,” said Chris Goldstein, a spokesman and organizer for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “You don’t ban drug stores, a CVS or a Rite Aid. Dispensaries should be available for registered patients. We’re talking about a health issue.”
“The other issue is that this could open up the city to expensive lawsuits,” Goldstein said.
According to Jones, Councilman Brian J. O’Neill, who represents the 10th District, plans to introduce an amendment that would prevent dispensaries from opening in parts of the Far Northeast. O’Neill could not be reached for comment.
Another marijuana dispensary in Jones’ district is set to open this summer along Main Street in Manayunk, he said.