NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 30, 2013

Pot shop delay sought

Moratorium would give officials time to research and plan

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — City councilors will hold a public hearing tomorrow night on a motion to impose a moratorium on the creation of medical marijuana treatment centers in the city.

The meeting will begin at 7:15 at City Hall between the Planning and Development Committee and the Planning Board.

During their regular meeting last night, councilors said tomorrow’s discussion will be instating a moratorium on permitting such a not-for-profit business, not on allowing it to get started here.

Since state voters approved a referendum permitting the growth and medicinal use of medical marijuana, many communities are investigating whether a dispensary would be a viable idea.

Mayor Donna Holaday has in the past said that her team will be looking into the merits of having a distribution facility in Newburyport.

Now it appears that the two committees are being asked to create a moratorium so that research can be developed before any formal proposals are considered.

Councilor Tom Jones, who is chairman of the Planning and Development Committee, said the moratorium could be for about 18 months.

He said one reason city leaders are seeking a moratorium is that state officials have not yet provided details on how they would like the voter-approved measure to be implemented.

In an “ordinance to amend an ordinance,” Jones and Councilor Barry Connell suggest that during the moratorium, “the city shall undertake a planning process to address the potential impacts of medical marijuana in the city, consider the (state) Department of Public Health regulations regarding medical marijuana treatment centers and related uses, and shall consider adopting new zoning regulations to address the impact and operation of treatment centers and related uses within the city.”

In a memo to councilors, Planning Director Andy Port said that final regulations the city creates “will address minimum requirements for such facilities regarding location, operation, security, distance from schools and other matters.”

Councilor Dick Sullivan, who is running for mayor, said he favored a moratorium so that municipal leaders can weigh the zoning issues that could be involved in the approval of such a business.

Councilor Greg Earls, who has also announced he is running for mayor, said, “We need to hear more, and zoning is a big factor.”

He said that it is unclear whether the council can keep such a business out of town even if it wanted, so councilors should be ready to learn more.

Holaday was not present at the City Council meeting last night.

In their discussion to schedule the hearing, several councilors had trouble avoiding the lingo of the day while considering the measure.

Jones, the Ward 4 councilor, said that he hoped it would not be considered a “joint meeting” of two boards.

Ward 4 councilor Bob Cronin said, “I guess we will be reefering this to the appropriate committee.”