Pubdate: Fri, 06 Apr 2018
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2018 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Author: Elaine Thompson



Since last month's release of revised regulations for adult
recreational marijuana use, municipalities are heading to town
meetings this spring to decide whether to ban or allow marijuana
establishments and ways to regulate them.

Shrewsbury, Sutton, Grafton, Northboro, Northbridge and Douglas are
among the Central Massachusetts communities that will deal with
marijuana issues at town meetings in April and May. Northboro may be
the only community that has an article that seeks to ban not only
recreational marijuana, but also medical marijuana

After reaching out to the Cannabis Control Commission; the state
Department of Public Health, which currently administers the program;
and Attorney General Maura T. Healey's office, which reviews all
proposed bylaws, it's not clear that such a ban is

Emily Snyder, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said Ms. Healey's
office has not reviewed or approved any bylaws to ban medical
marijuana dispensaries. However, she pointed out a 2013 decision by
former Attorney General Martha Coakley's office that disallowed an
attempt by Wakefield to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from
opening in that town. Wakefield's argument was that not allowing the
ban would force the town to violate the federal law that classifies
marijuana as a controlled substance.

Margaret J. Hurley, assistant attorney general and director of the
Municipal Law Unit under both Ms. Coakley and the current attorney
general, deemed Wakefield's proposed bylaw invalid, saying it
conflicted with the state statute.

She said the law "could not be served if a municipality could prohibit
treatment centers within its borders, for if one municipality could do
so, presumably all could do so ... The question is not whether a ban
in Wakefield alone would make it impossible for there to be 'one
treatment center ... in each county.' The question is whether the
legislative purpose of reasonable access to treatment centers could be
achieved if every municipality banned them."

Kathryn A. Joubert, the Northboro town planner, said Thursday that
after getting inquiries from two media outlets about the April 23 town
meeting warrant article, she is seeking further clarification from
town counsel.

She said her understanding is that things have since changed to now
allow a municipality to ban medical marijuana treatment facilities.

"Since that time, DPH has issued the requisite number of (medical
marijuana dispensaries) for each county, as required under the (2012
act) that states in part that one treatment center shall be located in
each county," she said.

The DPH said the state currently has 23 registered medical marijuana
dispensaries. But it did not readily confirm whether there is at least
one in each of the nine counties.

Ms. Joubert also said that the medical marijuana statute "will be
repealed upon the DPH's transfer of the medical marijuana program to
the Cannabis Control Commission, and a new medical marijuana statute
will replace" it. She said the new law does not include a requirement
that there be at least one medical marijuana treatment center in each

The 2017 law, titled "Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana,"
mandates a transfer of the medical marijuana program from DPH to
Cannabis Control Commission jurisdiction by Dec. 31.

Cannabis Control Commission spokesman Cedric Sinclair declined to
comment about the current medical marijuana program while it's still
with the DPH, and any possible changes when it is under the Cannabis
Control Commission. He did say that the adult use regulations do
ensure that medical marijuana continue to be available for patients in
cases where medical marijuana dispensaries also become licensed to
sell recreational marijuana.

"During the drafting process, commissioners agreed to require a
marijuana retailer that is co-located with a registered marijuana
dispensary to maintain a sufficient quantity and variety of marijuana
products, including marijuana for patients," he said.

In Shrewsbury, all four warrant articles for the special town meeting
on April 23 will address recreational marijuana. Like Northboro,
Shrewsbury is considered a "no" community because the majority of
residents who voted on Question 4, the 2016 ballot question that
legalized recreational marijuana, cast negative ballots. The "no"
communities only have to get approval from town meeting or city
council to ban recreational marijuana.

The first article seeks to prohibit recreational marijuana
establishments anywhere in Shrewsbury. It would also reduce the zoning
districts in which medical marijuana dispensaries can locate from
seven to two: Commercial Business (Routes 9 and 20 corridors) and
Limited Industrial, which is Centech Boulevard. The town has approved
a medical marijuana dispensary for a site on Route 20.

The article would also change the process for medical marijuana
facilities. Currently, they are allowed by right without any other
oversight by the Shrewsbury Planning Board. If Article 1 passes,
medical marijuana establishments would have to undergo a special
permit process.

If Article 1 fails, Shrewsbury Town Planner Bernie Cahill said, town
meeting would move to Article 2, which would allow and regulate
recreational marijuana establishments in the two zones. Article 3
would accept the state law that imposes a local sales tax of up to 3
percent on the retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products. The
last article would amend the town's bylaws to include the prohibition
of the consumption of marijuana on town property.

Mr. Cahill said that since state law already prohibits smoking on
public property, Article 4 would prohibit the consumption of marijuana
edibles in public. Fines range from $50 for the first violation to
$300 for the fourth and each subsequent violation.

Although the majority of voters rejected Question 4 in 2016, Mr.
Cahill said, town meeting could go either way, because articles to
prohibit marijuana establishments that include a zoning component
require a two-thirds vote.

"That's a high threshold. It's going to be close," he said.

Sutton Town Administrator James A. Smith knows full well how difficult
it is to get two-thirds of town meeting to agree on an article.

Voters in Sutton rejected Question 4 in 2016 and at a May 2017
election. Five months later, at an October town meeting, the majority
of residents supported the required zoning component, but the zoning
did not get the two-thirds vote required for it to pass. Mr. Smith
said the town will know what the proposed zoning bylaw for the May 14
town meeting will be after an April 9 public hearing before the
Planning Board.

"The problem is I don't know that all the boards and committees were
on the same page at the fall town meeting when it failed. We need to
show a coordinated approach prior to town meeting," he said.
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