By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – The Planning Board will host a public forum to discuss a proposed bylaw amendment that would specify where it would be acceptable to operate a medical marijuana facility in town.
The board will meet to discuss the issue on April 2 in room A-12 at 7 p.m. in the high school’s administration wing.
Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn said the proposed zoning regulation would limit such an establishment to the professional district, which he said is located northeast of Dwight Road and Converse Street and abuts Twin Hills Country Club and the East Longmeadow border, explaining that there are already several medical practices and wellness establishments in that area.
At the May 7, 2013 Annual Town Meeting, voters agreed to adopt a temporary moratorium on the facilities in order to buy time to craft zoning bylaws as well as Board of Health regulations, an action deemed allowable by the Attorney General’s Office.
“Essentially, this bylaw would replace that moratorium,” Gunn said.
He added that while not required, inclusion of medical marijuana language in the zoning bylaws would be a means of protection for the town. A municipality cannot ban an establishment’s operation outright.
“It’s optional, but it protects your right of siting,” Gunn said. “A couple of years ago we put in that solar bylaw for large-scale photovoltaic and that was the same idea. If you designate a site, the Attorney General will respect that and the courts will respect that so if the developer of a medical marijuana dispensary wants to build somewhere else in town and we say no, the courts will uphold our decision.”
He also explained that at a recent meeting he attended, representatives from Colorado said they didn’t believe 35 dispensaries statewide in Massachusetts would be enough to satisfy demand, explaining that in Colorado, for medical use, they needed 80 percent more capacity than currently available.
Gunn said while it was highly unlikely that a large medical marijuana cultivation and dispensing operation would come to Longmeadow, a growing need could result in the easing or changing of state regulations that would allow for smaller pharmacy-like operations to seek space. The bylaw would protect the town from this possible scenario as well.
Gunn said the board utilized boilerplate language that was developed by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and tailored it to fit the needs of Longmeadow.
He said the biggest challenge was making sure the bylaw was not too restrictive so as it would be rejected by the Attorney General’s Office, who must sign off on any bylaw passed at Town Meeting. Specifically, he said, while state laws govern how close medical marijuana operations can be to schools, there was difficulty in determining appropriate proximity to residential neighborhoods.
“We tried to be a little less restrictive with a 300-foot [buffer] … If we make [the bylaw] too restrictive, the [Attorney General’s Office] might say no,” he said. “We had to rewrite the bylaw a little bit because what all these different boilerplate templates recommend is you shouldn’t site a medical marijuana dispensary next to a residential zone. Well, Longmeadow is almost 100 percent residential. Everything abuts a residential zone, no matter where it is.”