As moratoriums come to an end, some local communities have only recently tackled the issue of how to zone for medical marijuana dispensaries.
In most cases, town officials had an extra year to consider zoning possibilities – time that some said was key and others said may have been unnecessary.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done it, but it almost seems like it was unnecessary,” said Hudson Town Planner Jennifer Burke. “It feels like we would have had time anyway.”
While the state Department of Public Health has allowed 20 applications for dispensaries to advance through the process, it has yet to award official licenses and no dispensaries have opened.
Burke, who said Hudson did have interest from two potential applicants to place a dispensary in town, said the moratorium prevented one from coming in.
“We would’ve been willing to work with them, but they weren’t ready to be on our time table,” Burke said.
The Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled last year that municipalities could implement moratoriums to allow for time to craft zoning bylaws, but this year limited extensions of those deadlines past early December and disallowed multi-year moratoriums.
The towns in MetroWest and the Milford region with moratoriums have mostly passed bylaws at their spring Town Meetings, with many being similar to those passed by towns last year that include limiting the facilities to industrial or commercial districts and setbacks from places children congregate.
Marlborough, which has a moratorium expiring the end of June, is in the process of considering a bylaw that would include 1,000-foot setbacks from not only schools, daycares and parks, but also elderly housing and retirement communities.
City Solicitor Donald Rider would not comment on the proposed bylaw.
The towns that said the moratorium was beneficial said it allowed officials time to see how the state and other communities handled the dispensaries.
“The moratorium was useful because it allowed us some time to let the state provide their overall regulations,” said Natick’s Director of Community Development Patrick Reffett.
He said a large internal committee gathered during the moratorium period and examined various medical marijuana bylaws from other communities until they found one on which to base their bylaw. Natick’s bylaw effectively allows a dispensary only in the Sherwood Plaza in the Natick Mall area, on Rte. 9.
Pat Brown, who was on the Sudbury Planning Board when the medical marijuana moratorium and bylaw were being considered, said she’s glad other towns are working through the kinks first.
“I’m grateful to see it playing out a bit so we have a better idea of what that zoning is for,” Brown said. “When you’re zoning for a hypothetical and don’t have an example, it makes it more difficult to figure out what you’re doing.”
Page 2 of 2 – She said Sudbury sought a moratorium because it wanted to wait for the state regulations and for a draft bylaw to be written.
“It was helpful having that extra time and having someone else interpret the regulations first,” Brown said.
While the law allows for the licensing of 35 dispensaries, the state is not currently accepting more applications and many town officials feel that even if the state does license more it is unlikely one will be sited in their community.
“I don’t think from a business perspective that Medway will be one of the places it falls to, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for it,” said Medway Planning Board Chairman Andy Rodenhiser.
Rodenhiser said Medway implemented the moratorium simply because officials knew they could use the extra time.
“We knew the time was available … and we weren’t ready to site it or have it go in anywhere,” Rodenhiser said. He said the extra time allowed the town to consider the zoning much like they did with adult entertainment, identifying what prohibitions needed to be in place and finding the appropriate zone.
Contact Lindsay Corcoran at 508-634-7582 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LacorcMDN.
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