MA: Retail Marijuana Regulations Clear First City Hurdle

Photo Credit: Richard Vogel

A draft of zoning regulations that would cap at 10 the number of retail marijuana shops allowed in the city is one step closer to reality.

The Community Development Board on Monday unanimously recommended that the city adopt a zoning amendment that spells out regulations for marijuana establishments. It was the first public hearing on the amendment proposed by permitting coordinator Nate Joyner.

“We all have a responsibility to minimize the influence and accessibility of legalized marijuana to our youth,” said Pittsfield Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong, in support of the amendment, which would relegate marijuana operations to certain areas of the city and lays out the local approval process for each allowable use of marijuana.

Armstrong was the only person who spoke in support of the measure at the scarcely attended meeting. Nobody spoke in opposition.

The amendment will next go before the City Council at a public hearing on April 10, the same month that the state is scheduled to begin the permitting process for recreational marijuana licenses.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries are readying to open in the city, the first of which is scheduled to open in March.

Joyner said he established the cap of 10 by using a ratio of one shop per 4,000 residents, which is the average in California.

“The state has limited us to imposing a cap greater than seven,” he said. “Going off that ratio we get 11, which is close to 10. Ten is an even, round number.”

The proposed zoning regulations also account for industrial-scale marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and processing, marijuana testing and research, and small-scale and large-scale outdoor cultivation.

Under the regulations, marijuana shops, manufacturing outfits and research facilities would be permitted in the city’s commercial and industrial districts.

The city would allow outdoor cultivation in low-density residential neighborhoods and industrial zones, with requirements that plants be 50 feet from the property line.

Outdoor marijuana cultivation would only be allowed on lots of at least 5 acres, and would require that the plants be enclosed within a 6-foot fence. In residential areas, the city would require “a continuous screen” along any abutting property lines.

Marijuana operations of all kinds would not be allowed within 500 feet of a school, playground or licensed day care.

The amendment also lays out the local permitting process for applicants who are expected to open establishments in the city.

For retail shops, permits are granted through a special permit application process in industrial and commercial districts.

For cultivation, manufacturing and processing establishments, as well as laboratories for testing and research, there would be the “lesser threshold” site plan review in the industrial zones, while the special permit process will be in effect in business districts, Joyner said.

Outdoor cultivation facilities under 20,000 square feet will require only the site plan review, while a special permit will be required for establishments larger than that, Joyner said.