Smoking marijuana in public is illegal in Massachusetts, but city officials want to “give police some teeth” with added local regulations.
Under a proposed Lowell ordinance, those who consume marijuana in public would be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, $300 for the third offense and for subsequent offenses.
“Prohibiting the consumption of marijuana in public will promote good order and decorum in the streets and public spaces of the City of Lowell,” the proposed ordinance reads.
City Councilor David Conway had made a motion last month for the city to review the feasibility of drafting an ordinance prohibiting marijuana use in public.
Under state law, marijuana use in public is not legal. This ordinance could lead to stricter penalties to deter use, councilors say.
“I’ve heard so many complaints and concerns recently,” Conway said Tuesday evening. “The citizens of Lowell deserve to go into a park and not be dealing with smoke.”
City Solicitor Christine O’Connor said this ordinance is intended to mirror prohibitions regarding drinking alcohol in public.
“While this is an evolving area of law and may require further amendments, this proposed ordinance is intended to provide the police with added local regulations, in addition to existing state laws,” she wrote to the City Council.
Under the proposed ordinance, a “public place” includes streets, sidewalks, parks, plazas, bridges, front yards, backyards, driveways and more.
City Councilor John Leahy asked about someone standing in their yard and smoking marijuana. He questioned whether the city would be overstepping its bounds by preventing someone from smoking marijuana on their private property.
“You can have a beer in your yard, so I’m not sure why people couldn’t smoke in their yard,” Leahy said.
There will be a public hearing for this ordinance on May 29.
The City Council also approved recreational marijuana dispensary zoning regulations Tuesday evening.
Recreational marijuana dispensaries will not be allowed to open within 500 feet of an elementary school, middle school, secondary school, or any school or college with students under 21 years old.
Some communities have voted to ban marijuana dispensaries, but the City Council has focused on zoning.
Lowell voters approved Question 4 on the 2016 ballot, which legalized recreational marijuana, by 56 to 44 percent.
In addition to the school regulation, the proposed zoning rules would prevent dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of each other. They also could not have any walk-up or drive-through service.
Further, the building must be designed to prevent marijuana odors from leaving the property line. Also, marijuana and tobacco products cannot be smoked, ingested or otherwise consumed in the building.
The applicant will have to submit a security plan that must be approved by the Lowell Police Department.
The City Council also on Tuesday accepted a state law that imposes an excise tax on retail marijuana sales.
The maximum established tax rate by statute is 3 percent of total sales.