Pittsburgh City Council could decide within a couple of weeks where medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and processors can do business.
As early as today, council members may discuss legislation that would direct dispensaries in the city to commercial zones. General or urban industrial zones would be designated for growing and processing operations.
Applicants would need to seek zoning variances in order to establish the businesses elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
"It's important that we set some standards that will help these businesses help individuals who need medical attention," said Councilman Corey O'Connor, who introduced the legislation last week. "I feel like Pittsburgh could set some pretty good rules, but we've got to be ready."
Gov. Tom Wolf signed Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law in April, effectively legalizing several non-smokable forms of the treatment. State officials have warned that the approved pills, oils and other products may not be legally available until early 2018.
In the meantime, the state Department of Health is crafting a statewide medical marijuana program, including regulations and permitting processes for businesses. The law allows for as many as 25 grower-processor operations and 150 dispensary locations to start.
Mr. O'Connor said Pittsburgh may see its first applications from the burgeoning sector by spring 2017. Twenty-eight states have moved to legalize some amount of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At the nonprofit Pennsylvania Medical Cannabis Society, executive director Patrick K. Nightingale praised the Pittsburgh zoning effort as necessary guidance for entrepreneurs. State law requires applicants to demonstrate that their would-be business sites are zoned properly, he said.
"I don't think it's restrictive. I think it's the opposite. I think it says, 'We want these businesses,' " Mr. Nightingale said of the Pittsburgh zoning proposal.
State law generally prevents dispensaries from taking shape within 1,000 feet of schools or day care centers, among other rules. It wasn't clear late last week how many municipalities are weighing or have decided on local zoning for medical marijuana businesses. The state also requires security measures for growing and processing operations.
"Everyone is certainly in the process of identifying what they ought to be doing with local ordinances," said Rick Schuettler, executive director at the Pennsylvania Municipal League in Harrisburg. He said the group wasn't offering specific guidance on the matter but should do so by early 2017.
In his Downtown office, Mr. O'Connor said he was still seeking input from his council colleagues. He said the pending draft takes a "flexible approach" while still treating dispensaries as businesses.
"This would almost be a place where you would need parking, because you're — in theory — driving there. You obviously could get [public] transit there, as well," said Mr. O'Connor, who encouraged straightforward access for patients. "I feel like if it is a business, it should be where most businesses are."