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Sussex County Council approves limits on marijuana business, restrictions tighter than state bill

Delaware Public Media

Sussex County Council approves an ordinance to set limitations on marijuana business within the county.

Sussex County votes to limit retail marijuana stores to only C-3 heavy commercial districts, and at least three miles away from any church, college, school, substance abuse treatment facility, another marijuana retail store, or a municipality boundary – many of which in Sussex County have banned the business altogether. Counties can only regulate them by limiting which zoning districts they can be built in.

Cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities would be allowed in various zoning districts including agriculture and commercial/residential. But county attorney Vince Robertson says all of these facilities will need zoning approval from Sussex County to be granted a state marijuana business license, and retail businesses will also need a conditional use permit.

“Then if you all approve it, it still has to go through the Office of Marijuana Commissioners public hearing process as well," Robertson says. "That’s a lot like a liquor license process so there is mailings that go out to everybody, if there are objections that occur there is another hearing the Office of Marijuana Commissioners for those as well.”

After the state laws are in place, the Office of the Marijuana Commissioner will issue licenses for 60 cultivators, 30 manufacturers, 30 retailers and five testing facilities.

County Councilman John Rieley expressed doubt about the success of the market – he says state regulated prices will undoubtedly be higher than street prices, and is unsure a legal market would weed out the illegal.

“And so what becomes legal now becomes moral and more widespread usage," Rieley says. "And there is nobody that can convince me that intentionally sucking smoke into your lungs is healthy in any form or fashion so while I do not like it, and I don’t know how I’m going to face my children after voting on this quite frankly, I will vote ‘yes’ because it does restrict the sale and control it to a greater degree than probably what the state would require.”

Delaware Cannabis Advocacy Network Executive Director Zoë Patchell spoke in opposition of the restrictions. She says research has proven that cannabis is "considerably and objectively" safer than alcohol, and argues it should thus be regulated in the same manner.

“History has shown unequivocally that prohibition doesn’t work," she says. "That dry towns only maintain prohibition and the illicit market.”

Patchell argues the county council is circumventing the will of the state legislature and the people.

"Sussex County was one of the last areas in Delaware to legalize alcohol after prohibition," she says. "So it's just interesting that history is repeating itself with Sussex County continuing prohibition after the legislature and the will of the people have overwhelmingly spoken to end this bad policy."

She adds this "defacto" ban on is retail markets will leave the county behind economically.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.