ORLEANS — Planning board members have already extended until Aug. 14 their public hearing on proposed marijuana zoning amendments, but the selectmen hope they'll extend it again to Aug. 28. That would give the selectmen an opportunity to present their take on both the planning board's bylaw version and one advanced by Selectman David Currier.
“We're within 95 to 96 percent of where the planning board is right now,” selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen said Aug. 1.
“It's true (they're) real close,” said Currier, who complimented the planning board for “doing a great job and due diligence.” In fact, the willingness of that board to consider removing a cap on the number of licenses for cultivation prompted him to suggest that two bylaws, one “liberal” and one “conservative,” be submitted to town meeting in the fall. “If we have one article and it gets shot down,” because voters would prefer a cap, “where are we?” Currier asked. “If both fail, then we did our job. We gave two options. Then it's back to the drawing board.”
Two similar bylaws might confuse the issue, said Selectman Kevin Galligan, who suggested formally transmitting the Currier proposal and town counsel Michael Ford's comments thereon to the planning board to make them part of the official record. McClennen noted only a handful of significant differences between the Currier and planning board drafts, including the former's maximum of four versus two for retail establishments. Selectmen Mark Mathison and Mefford Runyon were in favor of a single zoning bylaw amendment.
“If we put forward what we think is the best bylaw we can come up with that serves the needs of the citizens of Orleans,” Mathison said, “(and) some citizen wants to get up and amend it on the floor, then the vote of town meeting will either go with that or shoot it down. Then you get what you get.”
The board voted 4-1, with Currier opposed, to follow Galligan's suggestion.
The importance of the issue was underscored by the SRO crowd that showed up for the planning board's July 24 public hearing. Alongside the more technical debates about the number of allowed retail and cultivation establishments, lot coverage and permitting were passionate speeches about the pluses and minuses of legalized marijuana.
“I don't fear Orleans becoming all of a sudden a pot Wild West,” said Steve Gass of Gibson Road. “I ask you to consider being a little more open to lifting the caps.” Tom Fettig was OK with having a limit on retail establishments, but said limits on other uses would mean the town would “miss out on testing opportunities, and medical research on cannabis as pain medicine.” He said host community agreements for such uses “can fund community-based addiction programs...I'm talking with people in the community about some smaller, community-based addiction prevention initiatives. I think we can make an impact.”
As a registered nurse and recovering drug addict, Charlie Miller of Namequoit Road said “a community approach to the opioid epidemic is what's going to solve this problem.” Speaking as a mother of two children, Kristin Knowles said she has a “huge concern about the opioid epidemic,” but said the “stepping stone theory of how a person arrives in this place is vastly oversimplified. The use and abuse of alcohol is still the most prevalent stepping stone...for a neighborhood to have a patch of marijuana growing on someone's farm is far less of a threat than all the bottles in the liquor cabinet in that same house.”
Pharmacist Janine Corsano spoke of marijuana as “a useful drug. It has been widely used all over the world...It does definitely have medical use...and we can really help a lot of people by being open to” the eventual end of federal restrictions “and being responsible how we use it.”
“I hope the town will take some comfort knowing that some of the same individuals who advocated for this change are working hard to do so responsibly,” Rick Francolini said. “There is a dialog under way. The planning board meetings have been well attended. Constructive suggestions are being considered. A group of residents is developing ideas to aid in the prevention of drug addictions. There will be revenue to fund these ideas.”
Francolini said a meeting with Nauset School Superintendent Tom Conrad and 20 of his principals and staff has been scheduled to “educate ourselves, assess what's being done, and identify opportunities for improvement.” He cited an “ongoing dialog” with the police department, including “discussions to consider future community outreach gatherings at the new headquarters,” and said the fire department is involved as well.
“We need to give this industry a chance to succeed,” Francolini said. “Instead of dwelling on our differences, let's focus on shared priorities. Most of us can agree we want additional employment opportunities for our community, that we'd be happy to have a more vibrant business district, that farmers could cultivate more lucrative crops,” and that action would be taken to address addiction. “There are many silver linings if we choose to see them.”