CUMBERLAND — A local medical cannabis dispensary owner hopes to add a drive-thru lane at the facility, however the process has drawn the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
George Merling is the owner of Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary at 100 Beall St., just off Exit 43A of eastbound Interstate 68.
Merling is converting an alley that runs behind his business into a drive-thru lane for patients and deliveries. He said he is installing the lane at his own expense to comply with state requests to offer curbside service in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Merling’s business is basically intertwined with the flood control system constructed by the Corps of Engineers in the 1950s. A retaining wall and earthen levee form the rear boundary between the dispensary and the North Branch of the Potomac River.
The process required use of a front end loader to remove topsoil at the foot of the levee. Rocks were put down to create the surface of the lane.
The activity apparently drew the attention of the city of Cumberland, which reported the project to the Corps of Engineers.
Merling, who said he was not contacted by city officials, had two individuals from the Army Corps of Engineers visit his property on Tuesday.
“I didn’t know who they were at first,” Merling said. “They said the city of Cumberland called them.”
Merling said he is not a renter and owns the property.
“We had a friendly talk,” Merling said. “I told them I just wanted to level the ground. We just took a little dirt and we haven’t damaged anything. They said they had to take pictures. I said, fine, whatever you have to do, do it. If I need to fix something I’ll do it.”
Merling expressed frustration with city officials.
“They can’t contact me? I preferred they would have given me a call as a courtesy,” Merling said. “We have a coronavirus epidemic here. We are trying to protect the customers. I’m not going to make (money) off this. I’m paying for this. I’m trying to make the city a safer place. I have 20-some jobs here. I’m trying to protect the employees as well.”
But City Administrator Jeff Rhodes said certain protocols must be followed when making any changes to a flood control system.
“We had a couple people who work with the flood control system,” he said. “They snapped a picture of it, sent a picture of it to the corps. They didn’t know anyone from the corps had been out to see it yet.
“There is a process, called a 408 permit, that you have to go through … we have to do it ourselves when we do any kind of work around the flood control system,” Rhodes said. “If there were questions that would have been asked we could have helped to supply answers of how to navigate the permit process.”
Merling hopes the Corps of Engineers approves the drive-thru lane or gives him guidance on any adjustments they want him to make. He said the lane would provide increased security since deliveries can also be conducted out of public view.
“They can drive up beside the building and unload it and leave; no one even knows they’ve been here,” Merling said.
The next step in construction will be installation of a window where a door currently exists.
“We have to protect the integrity of our employees, too,” he said. “This is for safety and protecting (against) the spread of the virus.”
Merling said without the lane, curbside service is inherently more dangerous.
Merling said plans for a drive-thru window were included in his original business plan created in 2014. The dispensary opened in 2017 after the state of Maryland launched the medical cannabis program.
“I had no need at the time for the drive-thru lane,” said Merling. “It was a plan for the future. But now it is needed, we have the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.