SALISBURY — Selectmen want to sit down with Planning Board members next week in a workshop to discuss developing a new zoning article that will regulate the placement of legal medical marijuana facilities, a topic that could end up on the Oct. 28 Town Meeting warrant.
The issue arose at the board’s recent meeting after Town Manager Neil Harrington received a call from a party interested in possibly siting a marijuana cultivation facility in town. Harrington said he isn’t comfortable releasing the name of the individual or company involved or where the potential location may be. But he presented selectmen with their legal options on the complex issue surrounding the new law allowing marijuana to be sold legally for medicinal purposes in the state.
Salisbury is the second town in the region reporting calls of interest related to the placement of a state-approved indoor facility that would grow, cure and package marijuana for legal sale at state-approved dispensaries.
Last month, Georgetown selectmen heard a presentation by the principles of Medical Evolution, who want to locate a cultivation center there. But according to town planner Howard Snyder, Medical Evolution may not have been able to “secure” the building they hoped to lease on Jackman Street, which was located close to Interstate 95.
Georgetown Planning Board members were scheduled to hold a public hearing on a marijuana-related zoning bylaw last month as well, but the meeting was postponed until Sept. 18 due to a technicality, Snyder said. The 16-page document was formulated for Georgetown by the legal firm of Kopelman and Paige, which is also Salisbury’s legal counsel.
Although the state attorney general shot down the legality of communities simply outright banning medical marijuana facilities in their jurisdictions, Harrington said, the AG has allowed the institution of a temporary moratorium in communities that want to develop special zoning to regulate how and where such facilities can be located.
One of the conditions is that the moratorium be temporary and of only a “reasonable length” of time that allows for research, development and implementation of the special zoning, Harrington said.
Selectman Fred Knowles was adamant about not wanting a moratorium.
“Maybe someone is in need of medical marijuana because they’re in a great deal of pain,” Knowles said.
In addition, he said, the legalization of the medicinal use of marijuana came through a ballot question that was approved by nearly a super-majority of the people in the state. Knowles said he didn’t want a moratorium because it might be considered moving against the will of the people.
In Salisbury, the questions passed by a vote of 2,794 in favor and 1,317 against on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.
However, whether a moratorium is part of Salisbury’s process or not, Harrington recommended selectmen contact the Planning Board about creating the new zoning to accommodate the issue. If not, he warned, an approved facility will be able to site pretty much anywhere in town once the state gives it OK, according to the law regulating the measure.
Since the final say on implementing a planning moratorium or creating new zoning ultimately rests with Town Meeting, Harrington said investigating either or both options requires quick movement in order to meet the deadlines for the fall Town Meeting.
Selectman Donald Beaulieu said a moratorium would be needed to give the town time to create related zoning. He felt it was “incumbent” upon selectmen to take precautions.
“If we don’t establish some parameters, (the interested party) can put it anywhere he wants,” Beaulieu said. “We need to sit down and develop a plan.”
The legislation allows five medical marijuana facilities to be located in Essex County, with at least 16 applicants hopeful of being chosen as the fortunate ones to get the nod. So far on a statewide basis, 181 applications were submitted to the state as part of the first phase of review of all the proposals.
Beaulieu offered the motion, which all approved, to request a combined workshop with the Planning Board and representatives of Kopelman and Paige, to help town officials navigate through what he called “the morass” of the medical marijuana legislation and regulations.
As if yesterday afternoon, the meeting date had not be finalized.