CHATHAM – Town meeting voters will address two measures aimed at prohibiting the retail sale of recreational marijuana in town.
Selectmen voted last Tuesday to endorse general and zoning bylaws banning retail pot sales and to place them on the warrant for the May meeting. The vote was not unanimous, however. Selectman Shareen Davis voted to oppose the general bylaw because she thought it was too broadly worded.
Along with retail marijuana sales, the bylaw bans marijuana cultivators, testing laboratories and product manufacturers. Those activities could provide economic opportunities for local residents, she said.
Community Development Director Kathleen Donovan said the wording came from the state statute governing recreational marijuana.
Selectman Dean Nicastro said the bylaw applies only to recreational marijuana, not medical marijuana. The activities prohibited in the measures relate to recreational marijuana, he said.
“It is broad,” he said. “It covers all types of marijuana establishments that relate to recreational marijuana.”
While a state-wide ballot initiative allowing recreational marijuana sales passed in November 2016, towns like Chatham where the measure did not pass are allowed to prohibit sales through local bylaws. The ballot question was opposed by Chatham voters 2,611 to 1,924.
Referring to that vote, the general bylaw drafted by Town Counsel Patrick Costello prohibits “the operation of all types of marijuana establishments within the town of Chatham,” including cultivators, independent testing laboratories, marijuana product manufacturers, marijuana retailers or any other type of licensed marijuana-related businesses.” The zoning amendment contains the same language.
“We took a comprehensive approach that there would be both a general bylaw and a zoning bylaw,” Nicastro said. He noted concerns about timing. In a memo to selectmen, Donovan stated that the law authorizing recreational marijuana sales requires a cannabis control commission to issue licensing regulations for commercial activities by March 15 and begin accepting license applications on April 1. “However, it is our understanding that only previously approved medical marijuana licensees are eligible to apply on April 1 and that any new request for licensing would not be accepted until July 1,” she wrote.
Referring the zoning amendment to the planning board, which has 65 days to set a public hearing, takes care of any concerns about there being an opening, Nicastro said. Once the planning board advertises a public hearing, the zoning amendment is considered to be in effect, unless it is later struck down by the Attorney General's Office.
“The gap between tonight and when the planning board advertises for a hearing is really the only risk, and I'm not sure it's a risk at all,” Nicastro said.
In last year's annual election, marijuana sales became an issue when incumbent selectman Seth Taylor attacked Davis for saying the town should not dismiss pot sales outright but should look at regulating them like it does liquor stores and through zoning.
Davis said after last week's vote – she opposed the general bylaw and abstained from the vote to forward the zoning amendment to the planning board – that she felt the measures would preclude any kind of economic activity related to marijuana. Testing labs and production facilities are not the same as retail sales, she said, and it didn't make sense to place them together in the same bylaw.
“I'm not looking for pot shops on Main Street,” she said. However, it didn't make sense to prohibit all activities if some could provide economic opportunity for residents.
As of early this week the planning board had yet to set a date for a public hearing on the zoning amendment.