By Eliza Rosenberry
Any medical marijuana businesses hoping to open up shop in Bedford will be restricted to a small part of town, under new zoning to be presented by the Planning Board at Annual Town Meeting in March.
The zoning effectively limits medical marijuana facilities to one industrial area north of Route 3, identified on town zoning maps as Industrial C. The revised zoning article, along with three others to be presented by the Planning Board at Annual Town Meeting, has been submitted to the Town Manager.
At a February 7 public hearing, the Planning Board voted unanimously to limit medical marijuana facilities to Industrial C. The decision was made after receiving feedback from town department heads, including Police, Fire, and Youth and Family Services, who requested aggressive zoning restrictions on medical marijuana.
This marked a more conservative approach from the Board’s initial position last month. Member Amy Lloyd had advocated for expanding medical marijuana zoning to all three of the town’s industrial districts A, B, and C, a position she continued to hold Tuesday.
Lloyd said she is concerned there is confusion between medical marijuana — which Bedford voted to legalize in 2012 — and recreational marijuana, which was legalized statewide by a 2016 ballot question that did not pass in Bedford. She emphasized that Bedford will have opportunities in the future to restrict and regulate recreational marijuana separately.
“The concerns are well-meaning,” said Lloyd, “but I think that they are alarmist.”
Board member Lisa Mustapich countered that medical marijuana facilities would have an “inside track” to selling recreational marijuana when retail sales become legal next year.
“We’re not sure how that would work,” said Planning Director Tony Fields.
Fields told The Citizen that some medical marijuana businesses have said they would be disinclined to enter the recreational market due to “logistical issues related to the limitations and controls placed on medical marijuana dispensaries” designed to prevent access by the general public.
However, he acknowledged that if Massachusetts fails to create regulations for recreational marijuana by the deadline of July 1, 2018, medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell to the public.
Fields clarified that Bedford will still be able to prevent any retail recreational marijuana sales by a town ballot question. Towns are unable to pass such laws against medical marijuana.
One resident at Tuesday’s public hearing spoke in favor of aggressive medical marijuana zoning restrictions, at least for now.
“Let’s walk into this process and not jump in head first,” said Greg Carman, who suggested the town could always amend zoning in the future.
A yearlong block on medical marijuana businesses was approved at November’s Special Town Meeting in order to give town planners sufficient opportunity to create appropriate zoning. Planning staff members have moved quickly to propose zoning in time for Annual Town Meeting.
The moratorium was prompted by an inquiry last summer from a medical marijuana applicant, Seven Point, interested in opening a dispensary along Great Road. Ultimately the inquiry was withdrawn when the site was determined to be too close to locations where children frequent. Under state law, medical marijuana facilities are required to be 500 feet from such facilities.