MA: Springfield City Council Punts Decision On Retail Marijuana Moratorium

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After a prolonged debate on a proposed moratorium on retail marijuana shops Monday night, the City Council decided that there were two many questions and complexities to make a decision.

By a 7-6 vote, the council referred the issue to the council’s Economic Development subcommittee for further discussion, leaving the proposed moratorium on hold.

“It’s a fairly complex issue,” Council President Orlando Ramos said. “It’s one that was long debated this evening. My colleagues decided to have further debate on it (in subcommittee).”

Regardless of the outcome, Ramos said he believes a moratorium of some length will be needed.

The city is considering a moratorium for up to one year to allow for the drafting of local regulations regarding shops that would sell recreational marijuana products.

Some residents during Monday’s public hearing suggested the council should not drag out the issue, saying that the sale and use of recreational marijuana was approved by voters in 2016 and should be allowed to proceed.

On Jan. 3, the city’s Planning Board recommended the moratorium be in effect until Dec. 31, or until local regulations are drafted, “whichever occurs sooner.” City Solicitor Edward Pikula also recommended the moratorium, saying it would give time for well-thought out regulations.

State regulations are expected to be finalized in mid-March, and applications to the state for retail licenses would follow, officials said.

The process of drafting regulations and conducting public hearings is a time-consuming process and requires “thoughtful” deliberations, Pikula said.

City planners were recommending the delay of sales until state regulations are finalized and reviewed by the city in drafting its own regulations.

Those councilors voting to send the matter to committee were Adam Gomez, Jesse Lederman, Melvin Edwards, Thomas Ashe, Justin Hurst and Timothy Allen. Those opposed to the referral were Henry Twiggs, Kenneth Shea, Kateri Walsh, Michael Fenton, Timothy Ryan and Ramos.

Resident Linda Thompson said the suggestion of a one-year moratorium “means you’re not going to get started,” and such a moratorium would drag out finalizing the regulations.

Shea said that voters did vote for allowing the sale of marijuana, “but also voted for us to get it right” and draft proper regulations.

State law allows the city to impose a number of controls on the sale of marijuana such as time, place and manner regulations; limiting the number of marijuana establishments in a city; restricting cultivation, processing and manufacturing of marijuana that is a public nuisance; establishing reasonable restrictions on public signage; and establishing civil penalties for violations of an ordinance, Pikula said in the past.

The City Council had approved a six-month moratorium on marijuana sales in 2017, but it expired in August.

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has recommended that some communities establish moratoriums to create local regulations.

The city has approved a medical marijuana facility on Cottage Street in East Springfield, which is not yet open. That approval followed a moratorium and separate local regulations for medical marijuana facilities.

Some councilors on Monday said one of their concerns is that under state law, medical marijuana dispensaries such as the one in Springfield, would seem to have a preference for getting licenses for the sale of recreational marijuana. That would conflict with Springfield’s granted permit that allows just medical marijuana at that site, some councilors said.

In Palmer, the Town Council in December approved a moratorium on recreational marijuana sales that will be in effect until July unless local regulations are drafted sooner.

In late November, East Longmeadow’s Town Council approved a zoning bylaw that prohibits the sale of recreational marijuana in that town.