MA: Worcester Zoning Regs Proposed For Marijuana Establishments

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. wants to ban recreational marijuana retail stores, cultivators, manufacturers and related establishments from all residential-zoned areas and preclude them from being located within 500 feet of schools, public parks, playgrounds, licensed day care centers and public libraries.

Under zoning amendments being recommended by Mr. Augustus, recreational marijuana establishments would only be allowed by special permit in areas zoned for manufacturing and business uses, as well as in Institutional-Hospital zones and in the Airport zone, which includes the industrial park next to Worcester Regional Airport.

The special permit for such establishments would be issued by the Planning Board, which would review the appropriateness of each proposed site.

City Solicitor David M. Moore said the process would allow people to be notified about proposed recreational marijuana establishments and provide an opportunity for public comment, as well as allow the Planning Board to set conditions.

In addition, to prevent the proliferation of marijuana storefront retailers in certain areas of the city, the zoning regulations would prevent any such store from being located within 500 feet of another marijuana establishment.

The zoning amendment also would create a new use classification to address an apparent loophole in the state law that allows marijuana to be consumed on site, but not purchased, in a members-only social club. City officials said such a loophole enabled such a private social club to open recently on Water Street without any kind of city review or approval.

While the sale of marijuana for on-site consumption is not presently allowed, the on-site consumption of marijuana at private clubs does not appear to be prohibited by current state regulations, according to Mr. Augustus.

Mr. Moore said the proposed zoning amendment refines the definition for social clubs by creating a new use classification for those private clubs that allow marijuana to be consumed on the premises by its members.

He said the ordinance change would require such social clubs to obtain a special permit from the Planning Board, just as any marijuana retailer will have to obtain a special permit.

The city manager’s zoning recommendations will go before the City Council Tuesday night. He is asking that the amendments be referred to the Planning Board to begin the formal consideration process.

Mr. Augustus said the establishment of zoning regulations concerning the local and operation of marijuana establishments is an important step in appropriately regulating those uses.

“The proposed regulations meet our community’s needs by providing adequate opportunities for the location of legal marijuana establishments, ensuring that such uses are not overly concentrated in any single area, and providing a process by which proposed establishments are closely examined during the permitting process,” he wrote in a report to the City Council.

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a referendum legalizing the cultivation, sale and use of recreational marijuana in the state.

Under state law, Worcester is required to facilitate the establishment of up to 15 regulated marijuana establishments, which may include cultivators, laboratories, project manufacturers, retail stores (off-site consumption only) and related establishments.

Mr. Augustus emphasized that private clubs that allow on-site consumption of marijuana do not count toward Worcester’s quota of 15 recreational marijuana establishments.

The state Cannabis Control Commission is scheduled to begin accepting applications for marijuana establishments on April 1. Mr. Augustus said it is important for the city to move forward on relevant zoning regulations before applications are made for Worcester establishments.

He said the city Law Department, working with administrators and staff from his office as well as the Police Department, Fire Department, Inspectional Services, Health and Human Services, and Planning and Regulatory Services, developed the proposed zoning ordinance amendment.

“Staff has evaluated the proposed regulations relative to Worcester’s zoning map and is confident that they strike the right balance” between community safeguards and opportunities for up to 15 licensed establishments, Mr. Augustus said.

Under the manager’s proposed zoning regulations, recreational marijuana establishments would be allowed only by special permit in the following districts:

• Marijuana Cultivator: Manufacturing and Airport zones

• Marijuana Independent Testing Laboratory/ Research Facility: Business, Manufacturing, Institutional-Hospital and Airport zones.

• Marijuana Product Manufacture: Manufacturing and Airport zones.

• Marijuana Retailer- Storefront/ Delivery Only: Business and Manufacturing zones.

• Marijuana Transporter: Manufacturing zones.

• Micro- Business: Manufacturing and Airport zones.

• Club, lodge, other private grounds (nonprofit and private) allowing on-site consumption of marijuana or marijuana products: Business and Manufacturing zones.