|By Chris Maza|
EAST LONGMEADOW – The Planning Board recently agreed on zoning bylaw changes regarding medical marijuana dispensaries that will eventually be brought before town residents for approval.
The new zoning regulations would allow the existence of state-regulated centers growing and providing marijuana to those who have a valid prescription from a doctor in the industrial garden district with additional restrictions and requirements.
The bylaw change is required by the state after voters overwhelmingly supported Question 3 on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.
“What we hope people understand is that this is required by state law. This isn’t something we can just say we don’t want. We actually tried that and got our hand slapped,” Planning Director Robyn Macdonald said, referring to a previous attempt by East Longmeadow to create a bylaw banning such facilities.
The town was unable to do so because on March 13, Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that outright bans on medical marijuana facilities were not permissible because they “conflicted with the statute passed by ballot petition in 2012 that ensures reasonable access to marijuana treatment centers,” according to a press release from Coakley’s office.
Residents then approved a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries at the May 20 Annual Town Meeting to allow adequate time to prepare new zoning regulations, a move that Coakley deemed permissible. That moratorium would remain in effect until June 2014 or until a new bylaw is adopted and approved by the Attorney General’s office, which reviews all zoning bylaw changes.
Macdonald said the board anticipated bringing the bylaw change to the 2014 Annual Town Meeting. If passed, it would then go to the Attorney General’s office for vetting.
In addition to restricting activities to the industrial garden district, the bylaw proposal agreed upon would require businesses to obtain a special permit. The facility would have to measure at least 2,500 square feet but would not be allowed to be larger than 20,000 square feet. It could not be located in buildings in which a doctor or other health care practitioner does business and would be prohibited from operating from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
All growing would be required to be done inside and no consumption of marijuana would be allowed on the premises.
There are also strict guidelines regarding geographic location. Dispensaries would not be permitted within 300 feet of an existing residence or residential district; within 500 feet of any school, church, park – not including the Red Stone Rail Trail – playground, athletic field or youth center; or within 1,000 feet of any school attended by children younger than 18 years old, any licensed child care facility, any drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility, halfway house, or another dispensary.
Macdonald admitted a level of concern regarding the geographic requirements and whether the Attorney General’s office would deem them too restrictive.
“Normally they AG’s office just wants to make sure that you followed the proper procedure and doesn’t really care what individual towns choose as their bylaws,” she said. “But this is such a big issue that I wonder if they are going to look at the specifics of the bylaw even closer.”
Macdonald went on to explain the industrial garden district abuts the property on which the high school stands, as well as what she believed was a halfway house on Chestnut Street. A planned adult residential district, in which senior housing is located, also abuts the industrial garden district.
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