NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 16, 2013

Public gets chance to sound off on pot farms Tuesday

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY – Local residents clamoring to have their voices heard on the issue of medical marijuana will finally have a chance to weigh in during Tuesday night’s special meeting of the City Council.

The main focus of the meeting will be the public hearing on the proposed medical marijuana moratorium, during which the councilors will discuss potentially imposing a temporary ban on medical marijuana development so that the city has time to study the issue and pass new zoning regulations.

The issue has emerged as a hot button issue in Amesbury since news surfaced that two organizations were seeking licenses to open medical marijuana cultivation facilities in town. As a result, officials are expecting a packed house when the meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall auditorium.

The matter first came to the forefront last month when Council President Anne Ferguson proposed a resolution of non-opposition to the project, catching several of the other councilors off guard and raising the ire of some who argued the issue should have been brought up before the election.

In response, Councilor Donna McClure proposed the temporary moratorium as a way for Amesbury to slow down and allow a full public discussion on the matter before any companies move in and actually begin cultivating marijuana.

The Planning Board has also been involved in the discussions, and after Tuesday’s meeting, a joint meeting of the Planning Board and the City Council will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 30, at which point a final vote will likely be taken.

Should the moratorium be approved, it would temporarily ban all use of land or property in Amesbury from being used for medical marijuana treatment centers, cultivation facilities or dispensaries through June 30, 2014.

The two prospective companies, which are Alternative Therapies Group Inc. and Great Heart Holistic Health and Pharmaceuticals, have indicated that they are only interested in opening cultivation facilities in Amesbury and would not dispense marijuana from those locations.

Chris Edwards, who heads ATG, said that he’s not against a moratorium on dispensaries, but if the moratorium included cultivation facilities, it would inhibit his company’s ability to meet strict Department of Public Health timelines should ATG be awarded a license.

Edwards added that his company would bring numerous economic benefits to Amesbury in the form of increased tax revenue, new jobs and $50,000 per year through a Community Host Agreement. His company posted an open letter to the people of Amesbury seeking support and asked residents to contact their city councilor.

In addition to the medical marijuana discussion, Tuesday’s meeting will also see the continuation of a proposal to allow residents to keep chickens as pets on their property, and the resolution of a dispute that flared up last week between outgoing Mayor Thatcher Kezer and Mayor-elect Ken Gray.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Kezer attempted to appoint three individuals to the Conservation Commission. The appointments were added to the agenda as late files, but the City Council postponed its vote after Gray objected.

Gray said he hadn’t been given a chance to review the appointees himself, and he took issue with the Kezer’s attempt to appoint his own people on his way out the door. He asked that the appointments be delayed so that he’d have a chance to interview them himself, and the council obliged.

“I asked them to slow down and give me the chance to talk to the people,” Gray said. “The first one was fine, and assuming the other two turn out that way I’ll let the whole thing go.”

The three prospective appointees are Alan Corey, Kinsey Boehl and Suzanne Egan. If appointed to the Conservation Commission, each would serve a term set to expire on June 30, 2017.