Athol considering retail marijuana zoning and bylaws

  • Athol officials discuss town marijuana policy, Monday. Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/28/2017 10:16:49 PM

ATHOL — The town’s planning and community development director has asked members of a recreational marijuana zoning workgroup to submit to him by Dec. 6 ideas for specific details of a marijuana bylaw.

Eric Smith said he wants members’ priorities to him in time to itemize them before the group’s next meeting, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Dec. 11.

The group, consisting of town Selectboard, Planning, Health, and Finance board members, reviewed input from a Nov. 16 public forum addressing recreational marijuana and zoning bylaw development. The group, created by Town Manager Shaun Suhoski to ensure town officials are prepared to present information at a special town meeting in late January or early February 2018.

This special town meeting is tied to the state regulations on recreational marijuana. Athol’s planning and community development board must develop zoning regulations before the state Cannabis Control Commission’s adoption of regulations in order to meet statutory hearing and town meeting notice requirements. The commission is expected to adopt regulations, guidelines and protocols on March 15, 2018, for the issuance of recreational marijuana licenses.

Smith, who spearheaded Monday’s meeting at Town Hall, said he reviewed the forum, which he said can be seen at, and noted that 13 people spoke formally. Planning and Community Development Board member Aimee Hanson said she was disappointed in that number because she gets “stopped at least 13 times a week” by people who have an opinion on recreational marijuana. She also said she felt that some people who started the meeting opposed to having legalized marijuana in town “seemed to come around” on the issue by the end of the forum.

“There is more work to do to determine how people really feel,” Health Board Chairwoman Joan Hamlett said. Nearly 57 percent (2,828) of Athol voters were in favor of Question 4, which state voters passed a year ago to allow for the nonmedical use of marijuana by adults. Gov. Charlie Baker signed “An Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana,” the state Legislature’s revised law on the subject, on July 28.

When Monday’s discussion turned to where a marijuana dispensary could be located, Hamlett stressed the working group’s task is only to establish safe perimeters for a town bylaw. Selectboard member Stephen Raymond said he insists any dispensary be at least 500 feet from any park or school. Smith later said the bylaw must then specify what a park is.

Hanson said it is important to propose a bylaw that will pass at the special town meeting, which requires a two-thirds majority vote.

Peter Buck, an Athol Police detective, said he spoke with citizens from a town, which he did not identify, that has a grow facility. He said they told him the major complaint there pertains to odor. He also cautioned about young people “shoulder tapping” near a dispensary to try to entice someone 21 or older to buy them marijuana. Buck said this happens with tobacco and alcohol and there is no reason to believe marijuana would be any different.

Herbology Inc., a medical marijuana nonprofit, wants to move into the old Union Twist Drill Co. building at 134 Chestnut Hill Ave. The Selectboard last month voted 4-1 in favor of the letter of non-opposition to Herbology’s plans.

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