BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — NEWBURY – The Planning Board is contemplating placing a temporary moratorium on the installation of medical marijuana treatment and dispensary centers in town.
Planner Martha Taylor said a proposed amendment to zoning bylaws, which voters may be asked to consider at a Special Town Meeting on Oct. 22, would give the town more time “to consider where and under what conditions to allow facilities associated with the use of medical marijuana” as permitted by state law.
Following last November’s ballot approval, The “Act for the Humanitarian Use of Medical Marijuana” went into effect Jan. 1 and the state’s public health regulations governing dispensaries and related uses became effective in May. This means Massachusetts law now allows the production, distribution and use of marijuana for medical purposes, with up to five registered marijuana distribution licenses soon to be available for Essex County.
“This moratorium will allow the town to study carefully the potential impacts of (Registered Marijuana Dispensaries) and related facilities and uses” on public health, safety and welfare, planners stated in a letter to selectmen dated Aug. 13. It will also provide time “to develop zoning and other applicable regulations that address the town’s concerns in the context of Newbury’s planning goals and objectives, “ planners wrote.
Last month a proposal by the non-profit corporation, Medical Evolution, to install a state-registered medicinal marijuana dispensary in commercial office space on Kent’s Way hit a snag when the landlord announced he had no intention of leasing his property for this purpose.
Medical Evolution is slated to make a presentation at a selectmen’s meeting in Georgetown on August 26 on the possible installation of a medical marijuana cultivation center at an industrial building on Jackman Street. If approved, the cultivation center would grow, harvest and process the marijuana, which includes curing, drying and packaging the substance grown within the secure walls of a 6,000 to 10,000 square foot building. Officials there have also scheduled a public hearing on a proposed zoning bylaw relating to the siting of medical marijuana-related businesses in town at Town Hall on Aug. 28.
In Newbury, selectmen agreed on Tuesday to refer the proposed amendments back to the Planning Board for a public hearing.
A second zoning bylaw amendment – to correct an error in a Ground Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installation bylaw adopted at the annual Town Meeting last spring -- will also be considered during the public hearing. The change involves reestablishing the Planning Board as the governing authority for review and approval of such installations, except in cases when the installation occupies two or more acres. Selectmen will remain the granters of special permits in those cases.
At the end of Tuesday’s open session, selectmen unanimously voted to go into executive session with Attorney Lisa Mead acting as town counsel. The stated purpose for the secret meeting was “to discuss strategy with respect to litigation because an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of this body.”
Michelle O’Brien, a representative from Sagestone consultants – the firm attempting to install solar arrays on a portion of the 72 acre Pikul Farm on Scotland Road – was present for the open session but did not go into executive session with the board. When Selectmen Chairman Joe Story inquired why she was at the meeting, O’Brien responded briefly that she thought there might be more discussion following the closed session. But selectmen opted to come out of the private meeting only to adjourn for the night.
In May, Sagestone appealed a decision by selectmen to deny its request for a special permit to allow the solar project. The international renewable energy company is seeking a judicial review to allow it to develop and operate a three-megawatt solar electric array on 16 acres leased from Donna and Gene Pikul.