Pioneer Valley Cities, Towns To Get Help With Murkiness Of Recreational Legalization

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Springfield – The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission is preparing to work with local planners in the region in drafting model regulations for the retail sale of recreational marijuana.

Timothy Brennan, executive director of the regional planning commission, said his agency has been contacted by some communities for assistance, similar to when the commission helped craft model regulations for medical marijuana facilities in the Pioneer Valley two years ago.

There is "murkiness" in the new law legalizing the use and sale of recreational marijuana, Brennan said.

"There are many more questions than there are answers at this point," Brennan said. "It’s complicated."

Massachusetts voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana on the Nov. 8 election ballot, and the law took effect Dec. 15. Under the law, people over the age of 21 can possess up to 1 ounce and grow up to six marijuana plants inside their homes. The law allows retail sales.

State legislators have approximately a year to develop laws to regulate the sale of marijuana so that retail shops can open in 2018. Many communities, however, are also considering their own local regulations.

Previously, the sale of medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts, but there were both local and state regulations established before dispensaries began opening in the state.

The regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in Springfield, for example, include a requirement for a public hearing and special permit and limits them to industrial zones. The dispensaries cannot be within 500 feet of a residence or 500 feet of a school, child care center or other places where "children commonly congregate."

Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and the City Council have approved plans by Hampden Care Facilities Inc., to develop a medical marijuana facility at 506 Cottage St., in East Springfield.

The Springfield Planning Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend a moratorium lasting up to one year on the retail sale of recreational marijuana in Springfield to allow officials to draft and approve local zoning regulations.

There was no public opposition to the proposed moratorium during the board hearing at City Hall.

The board’s recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council to conduct its own hearing on the moratorium proposal. The council hearing is expected Jan. 23, beginning 7 p.m., at City Hall.

In the case of medical marijuana, a similar moratorium was in effect in Springfield for a few months beginning in late 2013 to allow for local regulations. The Planning Department drafted the Springfield ordinance, largely relying on "model" regulations provided by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Brennan said he hopes to schedule a meeting with area planning officials in February to discuss the regulation issues for recreational marijuana sales, and is also advising communities to send any questions and concerns to the state Legislature.

Some of the issues include confining marijuana sales to certain zones or communities that might wish to ban sales in their towns, which may not be viable, Brennan said.

In South Hadley, the Select Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a moratorium on applications by retail marijuana interests, citing the need for planning and precautions.

In Ware, voters at a special Town Meeting in November rejected a proposal by town officials to delay the siting of retail marijuana establishments. The town Planning Board had recommended a two-year moratorium to allow time for adoption of new zoning bylaws.

In West Springfield, Mayor Will Reichelt earlier this month urged the Town Council to delay the state’s new recreation marijuana law to allow time for zoning changes. He said that such retail establishments "raises novel and complex legal, planning and public safety issues and the town needs time to study such issues."

In Chicopee, the City Council sent a letter to its local legislators asking for help to plan for the new law.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Pioneer Valley Cities And Towns To Get Help With ‘Murkiness’ Of New Law Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Sales
Author: Peter Goonan
Contact: 413-731-1036
Photo Credit: Gintautas Dumcius
Website: MassLive