After months of discussion by the Planning Board, the City Council will begin its own evaluation of a proposal to allow, guide, and regulate recreational marijuana businesses in the city.
The Ordinance Subcommittee, chaired by councilor Salem Derby, will discuss cannabis zoning this evening at 5:30 p.m. A proposed ordinance was forwarded to the City Council from the Planning Board on Dec. 7.
The stated purpose of the ordinance is to allow state-licensed marijuana establishments in the city, provide “safe and effective access” to recreational cannabis, and “impose reasonable safeguards to govern the time, place, and manner” of marijuana businesses to protect public health, safety, and the environment.
Any new zoning ordinance must ultimately receive a two-thirds vote of the full city council.
The proposal that’s currently on the table calls for a 200-foot buffer between marijuana establishments and any school or child care center; for odor control; security measures; discreet signage, and more. Marijuana retail would be allowed in the downtown business, highway business, and mixed-use mill zones with a special permit. Cultivators, manufacturers, and testing labs would be allowed in the industrial zone with site plan approval, and in the mill district with a special permit.
Among potential city businesses, a recent business school graduate says she hopes to open a “Cannabis Café” in the Pleasant Street mill district.
While the Planning Board ultimately included language in its proposal to allow “social consumption,” city planning staff noted that there was no consensus on the matter, and recommended “greater debate at City Council.”
Although draft state regulations provide for social consumption, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has yet to release its final regulations on recreational marijuana, so the on-site consumption piece remains up in the air.
Planning staff also called for more debate on making cultivation facilities use renewable energy. Marijuana cultivation facilities are known for their intensive electricity demands, local officials have said.
The medical marijuana outfit known as INSA is actively growing plants at the Keystone Mill and hopes to open its dispensary soon. Principals with INSA, the former Hampden Care Facility, have expressed interest in entering the recreational side of the market.
The federal government under Republican President Donald J. Trump has not been supportive of state-led efforts to legalize marijuana.
While Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded the Obama-era “Cole memo” that allowed states to legalize adult use without fear of federal prosecution, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling of Massachusetts has indicated he will maintain his focus on “bulk cultivation and trafficking cases, and those who use the federal banking system illegally.”