Cannabis and Land Use Regulations: Engineering the Uncharted Territory

August 23, 2018

As more states legalize cannabis, states and their municipalities across the country are grappling with decisions relating to developing regulations. Medical/recreational cultivation, distribution, sale, and cannabis usage all need to be taken into consideration. This makes things complicated for officials to create guidelines for land use. For states considering legalization, municipalities within that state may enforce a “home rule” to outright ban or carefully plan land use regulations that fit their specific municipality. Without a precedent to follow, land development professionals will need to look to regulations for farmlands and medical facilities to advise potential best practices.

The relaxation of state regulations has allowed for medical cannabis cultivation warehouses and dispensaries to open in highly urbanized areas. While it’s difficult at this point to determine the lasting positive or negative effects of cannabis regulations on our communities, it’s imperative to join with grass-roots coalitions and our governing bodies at all levels to come up with master plan amendments and redevelopment zoning changes that can shape where our communities are heading.

To start, land use professionals need to ask a few questions to determine which regulations are necessary.

  • With cultivation, will the cannabis be grown indoors or outdoors? And how will it be secured and monitored? If grown outdoors, will it be regulated as farmlands are?
  • With distribution, will it be sold wholesale or retail? Will it be shipped? If so, how and when? Will it be stored on the premises and how much traffic will this generate in the area?
  • With medical and/or recreational use, will dispensaries be indoors or outdoors? Should cannabis use be restricted to indoors or outdoors, night or daytime use? What regulations are required for proper lighting, ventilation and buffering? Should there be a detoxification area?

In the end, land use professionals will have to look at existing guidelines and review:

  • Layout – how does the layout work with the current land use pattern? Is there proper buffering from adjoining uses?
  • Grading and Drainage –Considering if the cannabis is grown outdoors, what are the effects of soil stabilization and erosion control?
  • Utilities – What is the facility’s need for water, sewer, electric, and gas? Could green practices or energy conservation be employed to power these facilities?
  • Landscaping and Lighting – Buffering around the facility must be reviewed, especially with lighting to provide security for limited or 24/7 facilities.
  • Environmental Impact – what impacts does cannabis have on the development of blights? What rezoning, if any, must happen?

Pennoni offers support to municipalities and developers who need professional consulting engineers to advise on land use planning and engineering for the medical/recreational cultivation, distribution, sale and use of cannabis. For more information, contact [email protected].

Todd M. Hay, PE, CME, serves as Regional Vice President for Pennoni’s Northern New Jersey, New York, and New England Regions. For more than 25 years, Todd has been involved in a variety of projects including in transportation and traffic; utilities; parks and recreation; K-12; colleges/universities; and rooftop/ground mount solar. His work experience has included client contact and coordination; in-house review of site plan and subdivision projects for entitlement compliance; preparation and coordination of site plans and technical specifications for bidding purposes; preparation of site plans for entitlement submission; expert witness testimony before local, county and state authorities; and contract administration and construction support services for both private and public projects.

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