Medical Marijuana Zoning Bylaw Approved
Resident's proposed sunset clause fails to get sufficient support.
Westborough voters have adopted zoning in response to Massachusetts' new medical marijuana law.
Voters at Saturday's annual town meeting approved the planning board's proposed zoning bylaw amendment, 97 to 34. The measure required a two-thirds majority to pass, Town Moderator Joe Harrington told the crowd in the Westborough High School auditorium.
The zoning change allows medical marijuana treatment and dispensing facilities, and marijuana cultivation, in Westborough's adult entertainment district, by special permit from the planning board.
Moments earlier, an amendment offered by resident J.J. Malone to expire the zoning change on March 31, 2014 -- creating a sunset provision -- failed to get a majority approval. The vote was 46 in favor and 58 against, Harrington said. The advisory finance committee voted 8-0-1 supporting the amendment, Chairman Edward Behn said. The board of selectmen, the planning board and the school committee all opposed it.
The proposal was the planning board's response to Massachusetts' new medical marijuana law, which took effect Jan. 1. Voters approved the new law at the Nov. 6 statewide election. Westborough residents supported the measure, Question 3 on the ballot, 5,367 to 3,347.
The planning board's proposal originally included a "complete disallowance of the use," with the zoning amendment as a fall-back position, Chairman Lester Hensley said during his 15-minute presentation.
Last Wednesday, the Massachusetts attorney general's office struck down Wakefield's ban. The Westborough planning board then opted to pursue the zoning change instead.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health plans to present draft state regulations on March 29, the Globe reports.
"Without this bylaw, we have nothing. We are beholden to whatever comes out of DPH, and we certainly hope that they are going to do the job of regulating these uses,” Hensley said.
The bylaw will allow Westborough to "at least exercise some control of our future as the reality of these uses play out," he said.
Meanwhile, Malone said his proposed sunset clause would appeal to voters "that don't like to have a ban, but are fearful of moving ahead without having something in place."
"I think they (planning board members) have deep feelings against the medical marijuana,” Malone said.
"I think what we still have is an outright ban. Look at the access: the adult entertainment district that you can't get to from any road in Westborough, and the site is occupied in part by a car dealership.”
Hensley said the planning board began discussing medical marijuana in October, and followed Massachusetts Municipal Association guidance that "recommended communities adopt zoning to consider manage these uses."
The board’s thinking was guided by considerable research, as well as the precautionary principle, which "suggests that we act to do the least harm" with a willingness to "soften" the position given "sound evidence,” he said.
Resident Nate Walsh offered that while businesses such as pharmacies and day care centers are inspected, compounding facilities have “slipped through the cracks.”
"I just want people to really think about what happens with medical marijuana, where it is falling in the cracks. It's not quite regulated by any particular department,” he said.
"I think there's room for other departments to get involved, and I think we should press our town officials to really find ways of making sure that we keep things safe."
Resident Alan Ehrlich, meanwhile, said that "most of the arguments I've heard from the speaker for the planning board (Hensley) are arguments why marijuana should be illegal, why medical marijuana is perhaps a bad idea.”
“But, that's not what we're here to discuss tonight,” Ehrlich said.
“How do we make things so there's the least amount of diversion of marijuana for medical purposes to recreational or things like that?”
Resident Carolyn Spring commended the planning board, and said Malone’s sunset provision was unnecessary because the bylaw as can always be amended.
"The intent is to help people with glaucoma. (Help) people through chemotherapy,” Spring said.
“I can tell you personally: when I was going through chemo, I would've benefitted from this greatly. But that doesn't mean that I want it to be unregulated in the town.”