MA: Town-Appointed Cannabis Group Gets To Work

Photo Credit: Robyn Beck

At Special Town Meeting last month, residents resoundingly rejected a ban on recreational marijuana in Bourne. Now, town officials are moving quickly to educate themselves on details that are expected to inform a number of articles to be presented at Special Town Meeting this fall.

The town’s new Cannabis Working Group held its inaugural meeting on April 19. The group has been tasked with gathering information on crucial issues pertinent to the introduction of recreational marijuana in Bourne. Some of those issues include taxation, zoning, public safety and public health.

Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino chaired the meeting, which included the swearing in of the group’s members by Town Clerk Barry H. Johnson. Members of the working group include Bourne Board of Health member Stanley D. Andrews, planning board member William F. Grant, and Assistant Town Planner Jennifer Copeland. Serving as at-large members are residents Dominique Rapoza of Buzzards Bay and Richard W. Conron of Gray Gables.

Bourne Health Agent Terri A. Guarino, Police Chief Dennis R. Woodside and Building Inspector Roger M. Laporte have all been named to the group but were not able to attend the April 19 meeting, Mr. Guerino said. He added that the board of directors with the Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce declined an invitation to have a representative be included in the group’s membership.

At Special Town Meeting March 26, residents turned thumbs-down on two articles relative to recreational marijuana. Article 1 sought an amendment to the town’s zoning bylaws to ban recreational marijuana sales in all of the town’s zoning districts. Article 2 sought to amend the town’s general bylaws to prohibit recreational marijuana sales in Bourne.

In his opening comments to the new working group, Mr. Guerino explained that the scope of their work will be to look at a number of different areas on which recreational marijuana will impact the town. Among those areas are public safety, traffic and location, he said.

“How do we look at the use and the areas that may be allowed?” he said.

Another consideration is the number of licenses the town would deem reasonable. There are many different types of licenses associated with the burgeoning industry, not just retail sales, he said. Other types of licenses include those for cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and transporters, he said.

The group’s responsibility will not be to make policy decisions. The members will only make recommendations to the selectmen so the board “can determine what the best policy for the town will be,” he said. Those recommendations, ideally, will be ready to present to the selectmen by July 24, in plenty of time for warrant articles to be drafted for a Special Town Meeting, tentatively scheduled for October 1, he said.

Mr. Andrews noted that the board of health drafted its own marijuana regulations in the aftermath of medical marijuana being legalized in 2012. The board modified its regulations following the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016, he said. He concurred with Mr. Guerino that there are a number of different types of licenses associated with the pot business. He added testing laboratories, as well as food manufacturers who sell to retail outlets.

“They don’t grow or sell. They’re similar to a commercial bakery,” he said.

The board of health also took a position on the maximum number of marijuana establishments in Bourne. He said the board came up with six. Under the regulations established by the Cannabis Control Commission, the minimum number of facilities is determined by the number of liquor stores in the town. Mr. Guerino noted that Bourne has nine, so rounding that up to 10 means the town has to permit a minimum of two marijuana establishments.

Mr. Grant said the planning department has also leaped into becoming versed in the new state regulations as drafted by the Cannabis Control Commission. He said that because the state has already done so much work, and its regulations cover so many of the details associated with the new industry, “The state regs are our regs.”

He suggested that a big part of the group’s task will be determining where to locate all the different facilities associated with recreational marijuana. He said that with any of the establishments that could come to town, there is likely to be a “NIMBY [not in my backyard] factor at play” that the group needs to take into consideration.

“We want to be responsive to people’s concerns and not put it where people might find it very offensive,” he said.

With some establishments, there is no NIMBY factor to consider, Mr. Grant said. He suggested that testing laboratories might not carry the same notoriety as retail stores. Each establishment will need to be approached from a different zoning perspective, as the working group develops its recommendations for the selectmen, he said. As those recommendations are developed, the group will hold public hearings to get input from residents.

All that said, Mr. Grant remains uncertain as to what the group, as a whole, is supposed to accomplish. He noted that the health department has developed its regulations. The planning department has embarked on its own exploration of the state regulations, relative primarily to zoning. Bourne Police Chief Dennis R. Woodside has said his department is prepared for the arrival of legalized marijuana in Bourne, Mr. Grant said.

Mr. Guerino said the issue of legalized recreational marijuana was passed at last month’s Special Town Meeting, and the town is moving forward to implement the will of the people. The working group will be another venue for gathering information and providing residents with a platform beyond hearings held by the planning board and the board of health.

“There are people who have concerns, and there are people who are supportive, and there needs to be a place where all of that can be heard. This offers that forum,” he said.

The group’s next meeting will be held Wednesday, May 2, at 6 PM, at a place to be announced.