MA: Somerville Passes Moratorium On Recreational Marijuana

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The deadline for the study time period is Dec. 21, 2018.

Nearly 70 percent of Somerville voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in the 2016 presidential election. Now, ahead of the state government roll out in the coming months, the City of Somerville is discussing the potential zoning.

At a Land Use Committee meeting of the whole on Feb. 27, the Board of Aldermen voted in favor of a moratorium on recreational marijuana, extending the discussion process to the latest possible date of Dec. 21, 2018.

In that time, the Office of Strategic Planning and Capital Development (OSPDC) will be hearing feedback for the community and drafting potential zoning regulations for recreational cultivators, testing facilities, manufacturers, retailer and more.

OSPCD will most likely not take as long as the December deadline, said Director of Planning George Proakis, it’s simply a date set in place by the Attorney General. He plans to have two public listening sessions in April, which would then be used to draft an ordinance in May.

Before applying for state-level reviews, businesses must obtain a letter from the city stating they are in line with regulations. Without setting aside particular regulations, said Proakis, the city can’t give them that letter.

“The process would essentially mean folks would go into the state review when they’re ready. They have to have a letter from local government saying they are consistent with zoning. We can’t do that until we establish what the process is.”

The OSPCD will draw from the medical process, continued Proakis, to ensure permitting in Somerville runs smoothly.

“We need to be able to ensure that someone who is permitted in Somerville is [permitted] in a way that is what our community sees as a priority,” he said. “We should be working to get to the point where we should be permitting without delay. Residents were very clear about their support of this … it’s just about having the extra time to figure out circumstances under which we can do this.”

Alderman At-Large Mary Jo Rossetti said she was happy with the process while opening the recently renamed Sira Naturals in Davis Square and Revolutionary Clinics in East Somerville, but recommended amending the proposed ordinance with a date of Dec. 13.

Proakis said the study period will help develop questions, including: Does the city want to offer special permits? What type of districts should be included? Should the number of businesses be capped? How will the city decide which businesses they want?

“We’ll lay out the questions and possible answers, get feedback on it, and then craft ordinances that do that and have them back in front of you as soon as we can,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin said he was confident the city would be one of the first to house recreational facilities, just like they were among the first to bring in medical dispensaries.

One of the main concerns raised in regards to the current process was the fear of a number of recreational facilities moving into Somerville without regulation. But could that realistically happen, asked Ward 2 Alderman JT Scott.

“As far as cultivators and those folks, industrial categories could potentially fit them … some could fit into existing uses,” said Proakis. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a doomsday scenario but I do think the retail sales could be perceived by right if we don’t have something in place at this time. I think it is more likely than not.”

Ward 3 Alderman Ben Ewen-Campen raised concerns about the board’s busy schedule in the coming months, particularly in May with budget season.

“I think we should regulate this, we should have a system, but I want to be able to convince myself and my constituents [it’s the right call],” he said.

While schedules won’t be clearer in May, Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang said he thinks the board will have time to look a this issue in the fall, before deadline.

Proakis said when he has the drafted proposal in May, OSPCD will hold public meetings over the summer if that’s what the board wanted.

“I have a hard time extending the timeline all the way to December, to let this drag out until the end of the year,” said Scott.

”[It creates a] vulnerable position that many small business owners … are locked out of this process, particularly as more and more medical marijuana large operators line up against them. … the timeline can be significantly tighter than that.”

The moratorium passed after a vote of 9-2, with Scott and Ewen-Campen voting no.