A City Council committee is recommending that a moratorium on retail recreational marijuana stay in effect until Sept. 30, rather than a full year, believing that will give sufficient time to draft and pass local regulations without unnecessary delay.
During a meeting Wednesday, several councilors said they believe the shorter moratorium sends a message to the voters that the council is not dragging its feet on the issue. Rather, the council and representatives of the Planning and Law departments must address complex issues relating to marijuana sales and draft suitable regulations including public input, councilors said.
The council’s Economic Development Committee voted 3-0 to recommend that the moratorium last until Sept. 30, or sooner if regulations are finalized ahead of that date.
“I believe it gives time for planning to come together, and us to create the laws and ordinances that need to be in place to make sure that business starts moving,” Committee Chairman Adam Gomez said. “And that we have the right criteria.”
Gomez described himself as “super pro-cannabis.”
Councilors Jesse Lederman and Marcus Williams joined in supporting the Sept. 30 time frame.
Local regulations are not yet in place, and Springfield is among Massachusetts communities waiting for regulations from the state’s Cannabis Control Commission to provide some guidance, officials said.
Voters in Massachusetts approved the sale of recreational marijuana by statewide ballot in November 2016, and it was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in July of 2017.
There has been some public criticism regarding how long it is taking for the state and communities to allow retail marijuana establishments to open. The voters spoke, Gomez said.
“We just want to make sure that we are respecting the will of the vote,” Gomez said.
The city can draft regulations that control such issues as time, place and manner regulations, limiting the number of establishments, restricting cultivation, processing and manufacturing that is a public nuisance, restrictions on signage and establishing civil penalties.
City Solicitor Edward Pikula again warned councilors that the state in June will begin licensing businesses that would be allowed to locate in Springfield to sell recreational marijuana unless there are regulations in effect or a moratorium in effect.
The city has approved a medical marijuana facility that is slated to open this year on Cottage Street in East Springfield under separate legislation controlled by local and state regulations.
State regulations that are being finalized do give priority to medical marijuana facilities in getting the first round of recreational marijuana licenses, according to city Law Department officials.
Hampden Care Facility, now named Insa Inc., is planning to open Springfield’s first medical marijuana facility and has not made a formal decision yet if it will apply for a recreational dispensary license, said Mark Zatyrka, CEO of the company.
If it does apply, it will be at the same location on Cottage Street, he said.
“We are waiting to see what the zoning regulations and final regulations look like before making a decision,” Zatyrka said.
There are various categories of marijuana licenses being offered including: marijuana cultivator, craft cultivator cooperative, product manufacturer, marijuana retailer, research facility, testing laboratory and transporter.
Councilor Kateri Walsh said it is important in the regulations to keep the council as the permitting authority, rather than some other board, as the elected legislative body in Springfield.
Council President Orlando Ramos and Councilors Tim Ryan and Michael Fenton also took part in the discussion with Law Department officials and Deputy Planner Philip Dromey.