Orange to hold hearing on marijuana zoning

Recorder Staff
Thursday, January 11, 2018

ORANGE — The Planning Board is considering where medical and recreational marijuana facilities will be allowed in town, and are hoping residents will help determine the answer.

The Planning Board is holding a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m., at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, giving residents a chance to weigh in on where such facilities should be located, or if they’d rather see a temporary moratorium be imposed until Dec. 31.

According to Orange Community Development Administrator Adrienne Menges, the Planning Board’s current proposal is that medical and recreational marijuana facilities be allowed only in the Orange Industrial Park and the Randall Pond Industrial Park. Planning Board Chairwoman Mercedes Clingerman explained the two industrial parks would make up a new marijuana overlay district.

Planning Board member John McHale explained the board selected the industrial parks as locations for the proposed marijuana overlay district because they’re highly controlled areas, while still being set apart.

“They’re kind of away from residential zones, they’re kind of away from schools,” McHale said.

Facilities allowed in the marijuana overlay district would include those used “for the cultivation, processing, product manufacturing and retail sale of recreational-use marijuana and medical marijuana treatment centers,” according to the hearing notice.

Another topic to be discussed at the public hearing will be taxation of medical and recreational marijuana facilities. The Planning Board proposes establishing a local tax on sales in addition to the state tax, in accordance with Massachusetts General Law Chapter 64N. The local tax, Clingerman said, may be up to 3 percent.

Both the tax and zoning will come before the public again in the form of two separate articles during Jan. 25’s special town meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

But the Planning Board also has a Plan B, Clingerman said. In the event that voters do not approve the creation of the proposed marijuana overlay district by at least a two-thirds vote, the Planning Board has put forth an additional article that involves placing a moratorium on medical and recreational marijuana through Dec. 31. Clingerman said having the moratorium article “provides the town with the option of buying themselves some time” if they don’t agree with the Planning Board’s proposed zoning change. The moratorium article can be passed over should the proposed marijuana overlay district be favorable to voters.

Many local towns, including Bernardston, Greenfield, Shelburne and Conway, have enacted moratoriums on specifically recreational marijuana facilities, giving each Planning Board a chance to review the final state regulations and tailor them to work in each town.

Menges said Orange has been approached by several marijuana organizations, including most recently Silver Therapeutics Inc. The medical marijuana company requested a letter of support or non-opposition from the Selectboard on Dec. 13, she said.

“We’ve been approached fairly regularly about regulations and policies,” she said. “I think we are a popular site.”

In early fall, Robert Schnibbe of Green Harbor Dispensary requested the town issue a letter of support for the not-for-profit’s intention to create a dispensary and cultivation site at 140 New Athol Road, the site of the former Orange Flea Market. In June of 2016, the Orange Selectboard voted to issue letters of support to the Orange Alternative Health & Wellness Center and to Happy Valley Compassion Center, which also want to establish medical marijuana dispensaries in town.

Menges hopes for a good turnout on Tuesday, adding that the public hearing will help residents understand what they’ll be voting on at special town meeting.

“We encourage people to come out and let their voice be heard,” she said. “The Planning Board’s role is to represent the voice of the people and that’s what they’re trying to do.”