Marijuana has created a buzz in Marion, and a Special Town Meeting slated for February 15 at 6:45 pm at Sippican School will give Marion voters a chance to support or oppose an article to place a temporary moratorium on adult-use marijuana establishments in their town.
On February 5, the Marion Planning Board held its public hearing on the warrant article, giving board members, other town officials, and residents a turn at the podium to express their stance on the issue.
The Commonwealth’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has issued its draft of regulations controlling adult-use marijuana establishments, and it is expected to release a final version by March 15 in time for an April 1 start date for interested marijuana retailers to apply to undergo the state’s licensing process.
But with no local zoning bylaw currently in place to address the zoning of pot shops and a looming deadline to quickly roll one out, the Planning Board, like around 100 others in the state, want more time to procure an effective zoning bylaw with a moratorium on marijuana establishments that would terminate no later than December 31, 2018.
“There is no way we can reflect and read and consider and write bylaws in a two-week period of time,” said Planning Board Chairman Eileen Marum. “Whatever is in effect at the time the applicant applies to the [CCC] is what they would be subject to.”
Marum continued, “Right now, Marion has absolutely no bylaws to … regulate any marijuana establishments in this community, so that is the reason why we need to have a moratorium.”
“My cautionary concern,” said board member Chris Collings, “is people would confuse this as asking people to walk back a decision that they made in the voting booth,” which is not the case, he stated. Collings went on to speculate what might happen should the town still not have marijuana regulations in place by the end of the moratorium, but he was interrupted by Marum.
“We will have rules in place,” said Marum.
“…No, but I’m just going to make it clear…” he continued.
Raising her voice over Collings’, Marum stated, “I’m telling you, we will have rules in place.”
Collings persisted, “…We’re not changing a voter’s decision; we’re holding it off until … better plans are ready.”
Board member Jennifer Francis said in support of the moratorium, “I don’t see any down side to having a moratorium and giving ourselves more time … to provide the proper [regulations] as much as we can. We’re limited in what we can prohibit and what we can limit, but we do need some time to be able to look at the law and … be able to develop a bylaw that fits Marion the best.”
“The board supporting the moratorium is not the board in favor or not in favor of having marijuana distribution in the town,” said board member Andrew Daniel. “It’s completely not part of it. It’s more of just a responsible plan to have the bylaws in place before the December 31 deadline.” He continued, “I think some people … think that it’s the town trying to stop the forward movement of having marijuana shops and that’s not the case.”
Marum said a municipality could attempt to outright prohibit legal marijuana sales in town, but there is a process that must be followed.
Once a town decides to pursue a ban on the commercial sale of adult-use marijuana in town, the act is a two-pronged approach. A town like Marion that voted in favor of recreational marijuana in 2016 would have to follow a process beginning with a town meeting vote to ban marijuana establishments, followed by a town-wide ballot vote.
It is this kind of conversation that would take place during the moratorium, said Kokkins.
When the issue was opened up to the floor, resident Ted North called the pursuit of a moratorium an “unnecessary fire drill,” adding that the board had managed to pass zoning on medical marijuana before “without a whole lot of controversy.”
North said the Planning Board’s jurisdiction pertains only to zoning.
“You can place where you can sell this stuff, and we did that with [medical marijuana]. We put it in commercial/ industrial [zoning] down by the dump,” said North. “Just stick this down by the dump, sell it down by the dump. You can’t get rid of it, you can’t exclude it, but you can regulate it.”
North added that marijuana use is still legal in Marion, even without commercial establishments. “I can grow it in my basement, I can grow it in my garage, and I can grow it in my garden. You can’t stop me from doing that with zoning,” North said.
Board of Health member and pediatrician Jason Reynolds stressed protecting the youth from the dangers of marijuana, saying, “If we’re going to protect the youth of this town … we’re going to have to have a thoughtful approach to this.” Reynolds added that the Board of Health would be looking hard at how it can regulate the use and consumption of marijuana. “We’re not looking to take away people’s rights … but we’re going to make sure that it’s done in a thoughtful and safe manner.”
Speaking beyond the scope of zoning, Marum said one of her concerns about marijuana use was the diversion of marijuana within the household; for example, an older brother growing marijuana could share it with a younger sibling, she said.
“And we know the impact that marijuana has on a developing brain,” Marum said.
Marion’s Public Health Nurse Kathleen Downey also spoke about drug use in schools and addiction, issues that she diligently works towards lessening.
Resident Jennifer Peterson lamented that Marion, in its delay to allow marijuana establishments, could miss out on capturing related tax revenue. She said these facilities are held to strict requirements on security and other matters of concern to the board.
“Your weaknesses and strengths are already covered in those [state] regulations. They’re already well defined out in how they’re going to address that,” including “clear diversion plans in place so that they don’t go to youth.”
Peterson added that language should be included at Town Meeting that demonstrates a balanced opinion on marijuana, including data out of Colorado she claims had positive impacts on society in areas such as opioid addiction and crime.
Marum replied, “Well, I am the author of that spot analyses and I did that as a helpful tool for people that have not read these 107 pages (of the CCC draft regulations) that I have read.” She continued, “And also this is a draft; it has not been approved. This is not the final yet, so I think you may be spinning your wheels if you try to start doing rules and regulations and then they come around and change it.… I think the best thing to do is just kind of read it, digest it, get together and talk … but I thank you for your input.”
The board approved the language for the warrant article and fully expects to have a final draft ready for a vote for the Fall Town Meeting.
Also during the meeting, the Planning Board is sponsoring an article for Annual Spring Town Meeting proposing to change the zoning on land located on Spring Street from General Business/Light Industrial to Residence E, which allows multi-family dwellings.
Colonel Briggs, representing the other proponents of the project including Sherman Briggs and Michael Baldwin, noted that he was approached by Town Planner Gil Hilario about the idea of re-filing the project for the development of the lots along Spring Street, specifically Map 24, Lots 36A, 37, 37A and 38.
Briggs presented a brief history of the proposal that was defeated at last year’s Annual Town Meeting. He described the defeated article as having had “some cogs were missing in the gears,” and said this time around he has been meeting with town boards and everyone seems to be in support of the project.
Hilario spoke in support, observing that it would complement the ‘gateway’ and mixed-use area.
Marum also spoke in favor of multi-family units being located in the area, pointing out that the lots are located close to existing amenities and the project would provide an opportunity for those people looking to downsize.
Town resident Barbara Sanderson attempted to clarify the implications of changing the zoning, suggesting to the board that they present to the residents at Town Meeting a clear description of what will be gained and what will be lost with the zoning change.
The meeting briefly degenerated into a discussion of how many units might be located on the site and other possible uses for the parcels. Daniel spoke for a number of members on the board when he reminded those in attendance that the proposal was strictly for a zoning change for the lots and did not contemplate a particular development scheme for the parcels.
“What will happen there must be scrutinized,” said Daniel.
The board voted unanimously to support the article for the zoning change.
In other business, Francis updated the board on the Master Plan Implementation Committee (MPIC). She provided the board with a draft mission statement that described the purpose of the committee to “facilitate and monitor progress on implementing the Goals and Strategies as identified in the Marion Master Plan.” Francis anticipates that the MPIC will work with the Planning Board but report to the Board of Selectmen.
Collings asked whether the committee would be elected or appointed, and if appointed, by whom. He expressed concern that what the committee will be doing was what he had considered to be the work of the Planning Board.
“This will be a very influential group – who would select these folks?” asked Collings.
Francis said the committee would be made up of enthusiastic members of the community selected by the Planning Board, and board member Norm Hills said there should be at least one Planning Board member involved. Daniel felt strongly that the member selection should go through the board, “Because we are elected.”
Collings added that the board should “…make sure we get a fair cross section of the community – not getting one group or another’s idea of what the town should be.”
The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for February 19 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.