A zoning bylaw for recreational marijuana establishments in Montague is closer to becoming a reality.
The town Planning Board held a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss amendments to the drafted zoning bylaw and welcomed comments from residents after a presentation by Town Planner Walter Ramsey.
There will be a special town meeting at the Shea Theater on Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. If the town has the two-thirds majority vote it needs, the town will have bylaws in place for April 1, when the state will begin allowing recreational marijuana sales.
Members of the Montague board stated early in the meeting that the evening’s discussion was about zoning and planning only.
“We don’t really care if you’re for or against (marijuana itself),” said Board member Bruce Young. “It’s already approved.”
Among its decisions, the board voted to propose a barrier of 300 feet between a marijuana establishment and school.
“Regardless of what we decide, the state is going to have the ultimate say in regards to licensing, standards for security, advertising … the way it looks,” Board chairman Ron Sicard said. “Those are all things that will already be controlled by state cannabis enforcement. We’re trying to work within the parameters of what the townspeople want to see.”
Ramsey displayed a map of Montague and explained the proposed zoning of each area. He noted that potential marijuana retailers must go through a permit process, most likely with the Zoning Board of Appeals.
State regulations allow open air cultivation, so Ramsey proposed to allow this only in agricultural districts, which includes the east side of town. Retail would be set in the central business district, such as Avenue A and the center of Millers Falls and Montague City. The historic district includes everything in between the canal and the Connecticut River, and would allow all forms of marijuana establishments.
Originally, town bylaws proposed a 100 foot buffer between marijuana establishments and schools, but Ramsey proposed 300 feet. The state law is 500 feet, so if the Board didn’t set a limit, the town would have to abide by state law. The only school that could possibly be within the vicinity of a marijuana establishment is Franklin County Technical School, which is in the Industrial District.
Board member Bob Obear voiced concern about the proposed buffer between establishments and schools.
“You can do something there that’s way more harmful to kids, but if a dispensary wants to set up shop behind locked, closed doors … that’s an issue?” he asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“I think we’re battling a stigma,” Obear added.
Establishments would not be allowed to display marijuana-related items that would be visible from the outside of the building, which is also consistent with state law. Additionally, odor control will have to be put in place, but it hasn’t been determined how to measure and restrict odor yet.
Director of Public Health Gina McNeely said it is “very difficult” to test for marijuana odor.
“It’s so subjective,” she said. “One person can be horribly affected by it, and I may not smell it.”
Many audience comments strayed from zoning discussion, delving into concerns about children eating unlabeled edibles, or schoolchildren becoming influenced by marijuana establishments.
O’Bear noted that no one under 21 will be allowed in the establishments and will not be able to purchase marijuana.