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Pennsylvania Township Changes Zoning Ordinance To Allow Medical Marijuana Growing Facility

UPDATE: On Thursday, Feb. 23, Aston Township commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use application that would allow a medical marijuana facility there. It now has to be approved by the state.
ASTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) -- Nearly a year after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state, several counties continue to prepare for the program's implementation.

The law allows the use of medical cannabis to treat 17 medical conditions, including autism, cancer, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease. While it would be available in several forms such as pills, ointments and gels, it would not be available in smoking form.

On Wednesday, Aston Township commissioners voted unanimously to change a zoning ordinance that would allow for the growing and processing of medical marijuana facilities in limited industrial districts. That means it cannot be in residential or commercial areas, and it would not be a dispensary.

"This is a growing and processing operation," said Aston Township Commissioner Vice President Mike Higgins.

Such facilities must also be at least 1,000 feet from schools or daycares, have no exterior evidence of a medical marijuana facility, and be constantly monitored by police.

On Thursday, Aston Township received its first and only application so far from a group that hopes to put a growing and processing plant in an industrial area off Knowlton Road.

The group, under the name Medgarden LLC, hand-delivered a conditional use application to Aston Township. Commissioners will consider the application at a meeting on Feb. 23.

The state is currently accepting applications for growing and processing facilities and dispensaries.

Many in the community voiced support for a medical marijuana growing facility in Delaware County.

Catherine Warren is one of them. Over four decades as a registered nurse in Aston Township, Warren has seen an array of ailments.

"I've seen a lot of pain and a lot of suffering," the 73-year-old Warren said.

Warren also knows loss. In 2013, she lost her husband of 50 years, John Warren, to cancer.

"Watching him like that, it was just horrible to see. Seeing and remembering that is very difficult," she said.

That's why she supports more treatment options, including medical cannabis. She believes had it been legalized in Pennsylvania sooner, it could have alleviated some of her husband's pain and nausea.

"There's such a stigma on marijuana. I know it works. I've seen people it works with," she said. "I have a friend who has restless leg syndrome. For 15 years, she never slept a night. She moved to New Jersey and got marijuana butter. She puts it on half a piece of toast with some jelly before bed and in the four years she's been taking that at night, she's slept every night."

Critics, however, fear such facilities could open the door to crime or lead down a slippery slope towards the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Higgins says he does not support recreational marijuana and that while crime is a concern for any business, there are plenty of safeguards in place.

"Everything from motion sensors to video cameras to electronic locks and so forth," he said.

There are also still many questions, since medical marijuana is still illegal aunder federal law.

"One of the questions that will be discussed is how will the money be handled? We don't know if it's legal to put it in a bank or not," Higgins said.

State officials expect the medical marijuana program to be fully implemented in Pennsylvania by early 2018.

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