MA: Chicopee Preparing For Interest In Retail Recreational Marijuana

Photo Credit: Jeanette DeForge

When retail sales of recreational marijuana officially become legal in July, the city will be able to issue as many as four licenses to those who want to sell it.

Now the Planning Department is working with the Law Department to finalize a proposed ordinance to decide how to best regulate recreational marijuana in the community when sales become legal expected on July 1, City Planner Lee Pouliot.

Once a draft is completed it will be sent to the Planning Board and the Zoning Board to be modified. The City Council will have to vote to adopt it.

“We have a medical marijuana ordinance to go by so we aren’t starting from scratch … I’m hoping to see something soon,” said City Councilor James K. Tillotson, who is the chairman of the board’s Ordinance Committee which will review and possibly modify any proposed regulation.

But creating an ordinance is especially complex for recreational marijuana because there are eight different types of licenses for cultivation and for sales. In addition, there are permits for testing labs and research labs that would not be selling marijuana but would be handling it, Pouliot said.

The state will allow the city to issue up to four licenses for retail recreational marijuana shops. The number is based on the amount of liquor licenses the community is allowed under state law, he said.

The city was one of the first to create an ordinance regulating medical marijuana when it became legal in 2013. Initially the ordinance was so strict that the Council had to modify it because communities cannot make zoning regulations so stringent that they essentially banned all dispensaries.

The City Council in April 2016 granted a permit to allow Mass Alternative Care Inc. to open a medical marijuana dispensary and grow facility at 1247 East Main St. and with it a host agreement that would ensure the city receives a minimum of $50,000 a year in addition to real estate taxes from the company.

The project has stalled. Owners did not return calls for comment.

But the city may see applications for recreational marijuana quickly since Mass Alternative Care received “priority certification” from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission, which gives the company a leg up in applying for a recreational marijuana license.

Similar to liquor license, store owners will need state and local approvals before opening.

Tillotson said he understands the city’s ordinance for recreational marijuana cannot be as restrictive as that for medical marijuana. Communities where the majority of voters cast ballots against legalizing recreational marijuana in the November 2016 election were given the right to implement local bans by Gov. Charlie Baker. Chicopee voters however voted in favor of legalizing marijuana.

The City Council did adopt a one-year moratorium on opening recreational marijuana facilities in April 2017, but that was designed just to give the city time to write an ordinance to regulate them.

Like the medical marijuana ordinance, Tillotson said he believes the recreational ordinance will protect schools, churches and playgrounds by requiring any retail location to be a certain distance from them.

When the ordinance is ready, Tillotson said he expects the Planning Board to include a map of the city that will show areas where the shops will be allowed.

“There are a lot of issues,” he said. “I think a lot of thought has gone into it.”