D.C. Zoning Administrator Steered Marijuana to Ward 5

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D.C. Zoning Administrator Steered Marijuana to Ward 5

LeGrant acted with no apparent authority

The law legalizing medical marijuana in the District of Columbia is clear: medical marijuana cultivation centers can locate in any commercial area that is at least 300 feet from a school or recreation center. Commercial property in every Ward is eligible for cultivation centers.

Why then did 27 out of 28 applicants for cultivation center licenses choose Ward 5 for their facilities?

According to documents obtained by the Ward 5 Heartbeat, D.C. Zoning Administrator Matthew LeGrant worked quietly behind the scenes, telling applicants for cultivation center licenses that they could locate only on property zoned for light manufacturing or manufacturing — a small subset of all commercial property.

By restricting cultivation centers to manufacturing zones, Mr. LeGrant forced cultivation centers to cluster in Ward 5 where virtually all suitable manufacturing or light manufacturing property is located.

Nicholas Majett, head of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) who oversees the Zoning Administrator, was unable to point to any rule or regulation authorizing Mr. LeGrant to restrict the location of cultivation centers in this manner.

Mr. Majett was also unable to produce a copy of any analysis conducted by Mr. LeGrant that demonstrated cultivation centers should be located only in manufacturing zones.

Jason Klein, a D.C. attorney who represents medical marijuana operators, said his clients would have “absolutely and happily” sought locations outside Ward 5, but Mr. LeGrant had effectively forbidden them from doing so. “Many were frustrated with the lack of options and would prefer to be spread out around the District” said Mr. Klein.

According to Mr. Klein, Mr. LeGrant’s actions went against the law on the books. “The law only says that cultivation centers are not permitted in residential zones,” he said. Restricting cultivation centers to manufacturing zones, “was not a rational interpretation of the law.” Mr. Klein said Mr. LeGrant abused his discretion.

In December, Ward 5 residents were left dumbfounded and angry when it was revealed that 27 out of 28 applicants for medical marijuana cultivation centers were seeking locations in Ward 5. In January, the D.C. Department of Health announced preliminary approval for seven cultivation center licenses — six of which are located in Ward 5.

To address the flood of cultivation centers into Ward 5, the D.C. Council scrambled to pass emergency legislation in January capping the total number of cultivation centers and dispensaries allowed in one ward. The emergency legislation, which was co-introduced by Council Chairman Kwame Brown and At-Large Council member Vincent Orange, limited Ward 5’s share of medical marijuana facilities to a total of six cultivation centers and one dispensary.

Helder Gil, DCRA spokesman, attempted to justify Mr. LeGrant’s actions by saying Mr. LeGrant had decided that cultivation centers’ water and electricity usage made them “equivalent” to light manufacturers. Mr. Gil said there were “pre-existing regulations” that limited the location of cultivation centers based on these factors.

Neither Mr. Gil nor Mr. LeGrant were able to produce any documents that show the amount of water and electricity that cultivation centers are expected to use or how the amounts differ from other resource-intensive businesses like restaurants, which can locate in any commercial area. Mr. Gil was also unable to point to any pre-existing regulations that would limit where cultivation centers can operate.

Mr. Orange expressed concern about Mr. LeGrant’s actions. “I don’t see how he acquires that kind of power,” said Mr. Orange, adding that more information was needed about what took place. “It warrants a call to the zoning administrator,” he said.

Mr. Brown said emergency legislation was necessary because “the residents of Ward 5 have spoken loudly, that they don’t want every single [medical marijuana] facility in their ward.”

A spokesman for At-Large Council member David Catania, who was a key author of the medical marijuana legislation, expressed support for Mr. LeGrant’s actions. He said the Zoning Administrator’s job was to “hash these things out.” —with reporting by Dale Sprusansky

Send questions, comments, letters to the editor and local news to:Abigail Padou, Editor editor@ward5heartbeat.org