The Marion Board of Health and the “more mature” members of the Planning Board are joining forces on the recreational adult use marijuana front, pushing forward together with the Zoning Board of Appeals to get voters to approve a temporary moratorium on commercial marijuana establishments.
Planning Board Chairman Eileen Marum and Town Planner Gil Hilario attended the Board of Health’s January 9 meeting to introduce the board to the Commonwealth’s recent release of a draft regulation on marijuana distribution, ahead of the official deadline for a finalized regulation on March 15.
Marum informed the Board of Health that the Town’s Medical Marijuana Zoning Bylaw will be repealed on December 31, 2018, adding that oversight of marijuana distribution and sales will fall under the recently established Cannabis Control Commission.
“It’s imperative to get together to protect our citizens and make sure we don’t have any diversions of marijuana that could trickle down,” Marum said. “We’re just looking to get a moratorium so that some marijuana establishment wouldn’t be able to come in to the community and use our land or any of our structures … to put in their marijuana business, whether it be the propagation, harvesting, selling, whatever.”
Marum indicated that the entire Planning Board is not in favor of a moratorium, or of banning marijuana establishments, in Marion. Some members, she said, are “kind of enthusiastic about having marijuana.”
“Some of the more mature people on the Planning Board are not so enthusiastic,” said Marum. “They don’t think it’s a very good idea.”
According to the 2016 Annual Town Report, there was only an 11-vote split in the Marion voters’ approval of legalizing recreational marijuana: 1,626 in favor and 1,615 opposed.
Which is nuts, said Board of Health member Betsy Dunn, but she conceded that when it comes to a special town meeting, “We have to do what the Town says.”
An 11-vote advantage – “That isn’t very much,” said Marum. “But a win’s a win,” she added. “That just goes to show how the town is split – and people may change their minds.”
The Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing pertaining to a tentative moratorium on marijuana establishments for February 5 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House, and joining the board will be members of the Board of Health and ZBA to discuss what direction the Town would like to go in terms of a draft of its own.
“Bear in mind that … you can’t do too much, because this is still a draft,” said Marum pointing to the Commonwealth’s December 21 draft, “but we can make our own draft. We can start to think about what we want in our own bylaw.”
Hilario mentioned some of the common approaches some other towns are pursuing, including simply modifying the town’s existing medical marijuana bylaw to include recreational marijuana facilities.
“It’s too early to say,” said Hilario. “More research is needed. It’s too premature.”
Marum told the board that while jurisdiction over recreational marijuana facilities falls under the Planning Board and not the Board of Health, “As the chair of the Planning Board, I would like input from the Board of Health. I think it’s very, very important. It’s going to touch everyone in the community and it’s going to impact their health … and you’re going to be coming at it from a health perspective.”
Having said that, Board of Health member Jason Reynolds proposed that the Board of Health table its discussion on banning menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco until the spring in order to focus the board’s efforts on recreational marijuana.
“I want to be able to give this our time and energy, but we’re up against a real deadline when it comes to marijuana, so I think we should focus on that, and when that is done, we can take up the flavored tobacco issue,” said Reynolds.
Agreed, said Dunn and Board of Health Chairman John Howard.
Under the advisement of Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney and director of the Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program and Chronic Disease Prevention Program for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, the board decided to remove flavored tobacco from its future meeting agendas under the ‘discussion’ and ‘old business’ sections unless the board actually intends to discuss it.
Before that happened, though, Nicholas John from the R Street Institute addressed the board one final time, advocating for the use of non-combustible nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and vapor devices as smoking cessation products for adults trying to quit smoking traditional combustible cigarettes.
John again urged the board to embrace smokeless nicotine products as a smoking cessation strategy rather than opposing them and advocating prescription drugs for quitting smoking.
“People should be able to make the decision to use and have access to the products that work best for them,” said John. “Pushing people to pills … is not a sound approach to public health, and I sincerely urge this board to consider the value in e-cigarettes and certain vapor products…”
Once the discussion closed, Howard suggested, “It will be reopened some time later, so in the meantime, no votes…”
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for January 23 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Health
By Jean Perry