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Medical Marijuana

Montague moves forward on pot regs

TURNERS FALLS — The Montague Planning Board on Tuesday night approved the final version of new zoning language regulating the citing of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Less restrictive than the Department of Public Health’s model regulations, the zoning amendment now requires town meeting approval.

The five-member board unanimously approved the liberalized draft regulations, with members pointing to the more than 70 percent approval of the medical marijuana referendum in the town and statewide, and criticizing the state’s draft regulations as over-restrictive and too open to interpretation.

If approved at town meeting, the town’s regulations would allow the registered marijuana dispensaries in the general business, central business, industrial and historic industrial zones. Dispensaries would be prohibited in all others and would require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals even in the permitted zones.

After discussion and input from the sole attending member of the public, the board opted to do away with a 200-foot setback from any public school, playground or day care center.

The 200-foot setback was itself a reduction from the 500 feet included in the DPH regulations, which Town Planner Walter Ramsey said would also be the default regulation in the absence of marijuana-specific town regulations.

Kara McLaughlin of the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership spoke for the setback, raising concerns over marijuana use perceptions.

The partnership recently held a forum on the topic of medical marijuana and possible impacts on youth.

McLaughlin said the partnership takes a community-health approach to, predominantly, youth alcohol tobacco and marijuana use, with an emphasis on alcohol.

McLaughlin said the science around youth drug and alcohol use is that these are driven by accessibility and youth attitudes, and the visual presence for a substance normalizes it.

“We understand there are medical uses of marijuana and we’re not opposed to that,” McLaughlin said, but the science is very clear that marijuana use affects developing brains for life.

Inspector of Buildings David Jensen said a problem with the setbacks is that they address proximity to young children rather than the population most vulnerable, people in their teens and early 20s.

Harvard-affiliated neuroscientist Dr. Marisa Silveri spoke recently to this effect in Greenfield, telling students at a youth conference arranged by the Northwestern District Attorney that brains are particularly vulnerable to damage from alcohol and marijuana during the developmental phase, which lasts as late as age 22.

Chairman Ronald Sicard said the dispensaries will be very stealthy, and without any significant signage.

Board member Robert Obear asked why medical marijuana should be treated any differently from any drug-prescribing facility.

“Let’s take it for what it is. It’s a medical use,” Obear said. “If we really do want it to be part of our community and available in Franklin County then maybe we need to take it for what it is and not overregulate it.”

Obear drew a comparison to a dentist’s office prescribing opiate painkillers.

“If somebody takes too many Percocets, they die. If somebody smokes too much marijuana, they go to sleep,” he said.

Ramsey said the one spot the town would probably get applicants is well outside any setback buffers. “I can’t say where, but it’s well outside,” he said.

Ramsey said the town has no current applications.

Ramsey said the town attorney had opined it was best to include a specified buffer so as not to scare off potential applicants, because the regulations might default to the 500-foot setback, or be construed as doing so.

Leaving considerations of placement relative to other facilities up to the discretion of the Zoning Board through the special permit process, which includes notification of abutters and public hearings, the board ultimately chose to strike the buffer language.

“Maybe you can put an asterisk under that; ‘Welcome to town,’” Sicard said.

As the permitting authority, the Zoning Board of Appeals would consider detailed building plans, waste disposal procedures and copies of security, home delivery and other plans required of any potential dispensary developer and also requiring approval from the Department of Public Health.

McLaughlin said the Community School Partnership hopes to have a good relationship with any potential dispensary developer, but asked about avenues to address any issues that might come up.

“At this point, marijuana is superseding tobacco use for teenagers, 8th, 10th and 12th-graders, so I think it’s just something to be aware of, the impact on the community,” McLaughlin said.

Jensen said it appeared the Board of Health would be responsible for enforcing the DPH regulations.

No special town meeting has yet been scheduled, but may be in January or February, Ramsey said. In the meantime, Ramsey said any potential applicant would likely work with the draft regulations because their application to the state requires town endorsement.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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