MA: Chicopee Mulls Marijuana Ordinance – Bans Retail Near Schools, Prisons, Parks

Photo Credit: E.I. Hillin

A proposed ordinance to regulate recreational marijuana would require the new businesses to locate 1,000 feet from prisons, at least 500 feet from schools and churches and would ban them from residential property.

The City Council took its first look at the proposed ordinance Tuesday and voted to have it reviewed by the Planning Board and its Ordinance and Zoning committees.

The Planning Board has scheduled a special meeting on June 21 and the Ordinance and Zoning committees will meet together July 2. The City Council is hoping to adopt the regulations at its regular meeting on July 3, said City Councilor James K. Tillotson, who is the chairman of ordinance committee, said.

“That’s fine because nothing will happen before July 1,” he said. “I don’t see how we can do it any quicker.”

Retail sales of recreational marijuana can officially begin in the state on July 1 but the shops must have state and local permits. The Planning Board has received a number of inquiries about recreational marijuana sales but no one is sure if there is any serious interest in opening a business immediately, Tillotson said.

The City Council in April 2016 granted a permit to allow Mass Alternative Care Inc. to locate a medical marijuana dispensary and grow facility at 1247 East Main St., which has not opened yet. Mass Alternative Care has received “priority certification” from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, which gives the company a leg up in applying for a recreational marijuana license.

Chicopee residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana on the November 2016 ballot question, with all wards, with the exception of Ward 6, voting in favor. Some communities, including West Springfield, Ludlow, Hampden and Wilbraham, where the majority of voters cast ballots against legalizing marijuana, have decided against allowing pot shops.

The recreational ordinance is more complex than the medical marijuana ordinance because there are eight different categories of businesses ranging from cultivators and retailers to independent testing laboratories and transporters who will not sell marijuana, Pouliot said.

All businesses will be banned from property zoned for residential. Retail shops and testing facilities will be allowed in most business and mixed-use zones while cultivators will be limited to industrial zoning districts, the ordinance said.

Instead of trying to limit the shops by zoning districts, the ordinance instead will require buffer zones that will prevent recreational marijuana businesses from locating 250 to 1,000 feet from schools, churches, day care facilities, churches and other places where children under 18 congregate. The buffer zone distance will depend on the type of business and the protected location, the ordinance said.

The strictest buffer zones keep all types of marijuana businesses 1,000 feet away from drug rehabilitation or detoxification facilities, prisons and boarding or lodging houses. Businesses which test or transport marijuana but do not sell it directly face the most relaxed regulations and can locate 250 feet outside of schools, playgrounds or churches, the ordinance said.

Most stores will be required to be at least 500 feet from a municipally-owned park, daycare center, school, church, youth center or library, the ordinance said.

Marijuana retailers will also be banned from locating in hotels and in any businesses that contain doctor’s offices or any other professionals who can prescribe medical marijuana

Using its GIS mapping system, the Planning Department is developing maps that will show all possible locations of recreational marijuana facilities that will be available for the June 21 meeting, Pouliot said.

City Councilor Joel McAuliffe said city officials have an obligation to create an ordinance that respects existing schools, businesses and homes but at the same time encourages new business.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for this city to see real economic growth though these shops. We have different funding challenges in this city, we need to take an innovative and open approach to these policies,” McAuliffe said.

Tillotson said the city will be able to license up to four recreational businesses and he feels the ordinance is fair and balanced.

“We recognize the revenue from it but we also recognize there can be problems with it,” he said.