MA: Easthampton City Council Approves ‘Historic’ Recreational Cannabis Zoning Ordinance

Photo Credit: Northeastern

City councilors soldiered through a three-and-a-half-hour work session Wednesday night, engaged in vigorous debate, and emerged with a recreational marijuana zoning ordinance.

After seven months of public hearings, the ordinance passed 7-1-1, with at-large councilor Daniel Carey voting “no” and Precinct 5 councilor Daniel Rist abstaining.

The measure maintains a 350-foot school buffer zone advanced in an earlier compromise. An amendment from Precinct 1 Councilor James “J.P.” Kwiecinski to increase the buffer to 500 feet narrowly failed, and a subsequent try for 400 feet also failed.

Carey said the failure of the 500-foot buffer was a deal-breaker for him, and Rist abstained after saying he would not support a bill with less than a 400-foot school buffer. Both councilors, however, thanked their colleagues and said the overall ordinance was thoughtfully crafted.

The measure caps the total number of retail licenses at six. It requires a 200-foot space between marijuana retailers, except in the mill industrial zone. It contains language around signage, odor, visual impact, security, and nuisance conditions.

Cannabis retailers would be able to operate from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., a consistent standard in the highway business, downtown business, industrial, and mill industrial zones. No marijuana “home occupations” would be allowed.

Two innovative measures made the cut.

“Industrial hemp” cultivation, to the extent it is allowed by state agriculture regulators, would be allowed with site plan approval.

As for onsite consumption, “no marijuana shall be smoked, eaten, or otherwise consumed or ingested on the premises,” except as may be allowed in a cannabis membership club or other entity allowed by state law.

The caveat keeps the door open for allowing “cannabis cafes” and other such entities if the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission crafts rules to allow them.

“This is historic,” said Karima Rizk, who would like to open a cannabis coffee shop known as Cafe Vert. “We saw months of thoughtful debate resulting in one of the most progressive cannabis ordinances in the state.”

In a series of hearings that began in August before the Planning Board, school officials and some parents argued for tight restrictions, and others — including members of the business community and those opposed to state-sponsored “prohibition” — said the city should welcome the budding legal cannabis industry.

Precinct 4 councilor Salem Derby, chairman of the Ordinance Subcommittee, had been a driving force in crafting rules to support the industry in Easthampton. Councilors Owen Zaret, Margaret “Peg” Conniff, and Thomas Peake had also argued for progressive cannabis regulations.

Kwiecinski, whose wife Cynthia Kwiecinski is chairwoman of the School Committee, was vocal in urging caution and a slow approach.

Rist said his thoughts on the matter had evolved significantly over time, and thanked Derby for helping to dispel some of his earlier fears about legalization.

One piece that did not immediately advance Wednesday was a proposal to require 500 feet between cultivation facilities.

The amendment had been requested by Stephen M. Reilly, Jr., a lawyer for INSA, the newly-opened medical marijuana facility at the Keystone Mill on Pleasant Street. Reilly had argued that contamination of INSA’s crop could occur if a poorly-run dispensary were allowed nearby, and if spores, mold, or pesticides made it into the building’s ventilation system.

The request was sent to the Ordinance Subcommittee for further research. Rist said the provision could block any other marijuana grower from locating in the mill district. He said any perception that the City Council was acting to support a single business or monopoly could raise legal questions.

Derby said he understands why INSA would want the buffer, because if its crop was contaminated it would be a “catastrophic business event.”

INSA announced this week it will apply to establish an adult recreational cannabis shop and cultivation enterprise at its current MMJ growroom and retail space at 122 Pleasant St.

The council enacted its ordinance three days before the Cannabis Control Commission plans to accept its first license applications, and Easthampton officials had pushed to beat the April 1 deadline.

Councilors thanked City Planner Jeffrey Bagg for supporting their effort with his expertise and research. The 6 p.m. meeting adjourned at around 9:30 p.m.

Bagg said the ordinance, as passed, will be posted on the city’s website.