Neighborhood Has Nothing to Fear From Pot Factories: Applicant

Residents concerned about number of medical marijuana cultivation site applications in Ward 5

A D.C. Council member wants to introduce emergency legislation to limit the number of medical marijuana cultivation centers that can set up shop in each city ward.

Harry Thomas Jr., of Ward 5, told News4 he’s going to introduce a moratorium bill next month in an attempt to prevent an oversaturation of marijuana farms in his ward. Last night, the News4 I-Team showed how 26 out of 28 of the proposed cultivation centers want to set up business in his ward.  Twenty-four have applied for a license in an even smaller subsection – ANC 5B.

(See if a medical marijuana cultivation center could end up in your neighborhood.)

But Montgomery Blair Sibley said the neighborhood has nothing to fear. He took the I-Team on a tour through three steel doors and several unmarked passages to show where he wants to set up his cultivation business inside a building on New York Avenue NE.

“You can’t get into this facility except through this door,” Sibley said pointing to the last barrier. “There are cameras inside and outside. If you’re trying to break in, the whole world’s going to know about it.”

Sibley said he and four other applicants have individually applied for licenses in this building with a plan to share resources and space if they each receive a license.

Sibley and other applicants told News4 they ended up choosing ANC 5B because of the District’s strict zoning laws and cheap rental space.

But ANC 5B residents like Lorenzo Crandle worry the pot farms will encourage crime to grow.

"Drugs are being sold. Robberies,” Crandle said. “My car was broken into less than a week ago."

A News4 I-Team analysis of recent crime data shows many of the marijuana applicants want to locate in spots directly across the street from recent thefts, robberies and assaults.

(See a map of recent crime incidents in ANC 5B.)

“My sense of this is that these growing centers, where they are located, the crime will become less because of the added security,” said Dr. Mohammed Akhter, the director of the D.C. Department of Health.

Dr. Akhter leads the six-member panel that will ultimately award up to 10 licenses.

According to the Department of Health’s website, the licenses will be granted based on a points system. Each applicant can earn up to 250 points and an additional 20 “bonus points,” including:

  • 25 points for the plan to grow the marijuana, including power allocation, air exchange, lighting and space for bulk agriculture manufacturing. Must also include plans to handle, store, package and ship marijuana.
  • 25 points for the ability to expand the cultivation facility “in a quick and efficient manner with minimal impact on the environment and surrounding community.”
  • 20 points for staffing plan, including safety and legal concerns.
  • 50 points for a security plan. 30 of these points will be awarded for, “ability to prevent the theft or diversion of medical marijuana.” 5 points for record keeping, tracking and other quality control measures, including how to dispose of surplus marijuana. 10 points for security measures for storage of marijuana and “steps taken to ensure that medical marijuana is not visible to the public.” 5 points for transportation plan.
  • 10 points for “plan to provide a steady supply of medical marijuana.
  • 10 points for “knowledge of organic growing methods.”
  • 10 points for ensuring “the quality of marijuana, including purity and consistency.”
  • 30 points for “Product Safety and Labeling Plan.”
  • 20 points for “Business Plan and Services to be offered.”
  • 20 bonus points for “Environmental Plan,” that minimizes “carbon footprint” and other green initiatives.

Dr. Akhter said the final 50 points will be awarded by the ANC commission where each applicant would be located. As a result, ANC 5B will review 24 applications and must give its recommendations to the Health Department by December.

“ANC commissioners do get some say in who moves in,” Dr. Akhter said. “The only thing they don’t have is veto power. They can’t veto it because it’s the law.”

That’s why Sibley said he’s reaching out to his neighbors, trying to calm their fears, including two churches already located in his building.

News4 contacted both churches several times. Neither returned phone calls or emails.

But Sibley is confident.

“We've spoken to the people here, and they understand that at its base, it's a humanitarian effort to relieve suffering,” he said. “In that regard, they didn't seem to have any problem with it."

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