Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Zoning

Planning Board member Amy Lloyd presented Article 11, medical marijuana zoning, at Annual Town Meeting on Monday night – Image (c) Eliza Rosenberry, 2017 all rights reserved

By Eliza Rosenberry

More than four years after residents voted to legalize medical marijuana, Bedford has designated an area of town for such businesses to operate here.

Voters at Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, March 27 approved a zoning bylaw amendment that effectively restricts potential medical marijuana businesses to a small area north of Route 3, classified on town zoning maps as Industrial C. Any interested businesses will still need to receive a letter of non-opposition from the Selectmen and go through a special permitting process with the Planning Board.

In presenting the article, Planning Board member Amy Lloyd explained that Massachusetts towns are not allowed to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries entirely. She said the chosen zoning was ideal because of its proximity to the highway network, thus reducing any traffic burden on town roadways. In addition, state law prohibits such facilities from having promotional storefronts, making an industrial siting more appropriate than a shopping area like Great Road.

Resident Kris Washington, who has published letters in The Citizen cautioning residents about the risks of marijuana, inquired about the possibility for medical marijuana dispensaries to pivot to retail sales in the future.

Lloyd assured him that Bedford will still retain local control to restrict, and possibly prohibit altogether, recreational marijuana sales.

“Recreational and medical are two very different animals,” Lloyd said.

Some voters took the opportunity to voice opinions and concerns about marijuana use generally.

“I do recognize the importance of medical marijuana use for sick people,” said resident Michael O’Shaughnessy. “Indeed, I have sick friends and family members that fight ravaging diseases like cancer. But I just want to caution you about the epidemic we find ourselves in.” O’Shaughnessy said he works in drug enforcement and sees a path from marijuana use to opioid addiction.

Other residents considered the impact of a medical marijuana facility in Bedford. Washington said the promotion of marijuana in Bedford could normalize the drug for town youth, while resident and cancer survivor Jeff Hoyland stated his desire for such a facility.

“Please bring it to Bedford,” Hoyland said.

“We’re talking now about a tightly regulated medical dispensary and we’re trying to protect our children from it,” said town resident Louis Stuhl. “It would seem to me that if we’re going to do that, we really ought to move all the liquor stores in town to the same location.”

All four of the Planning Board’s zoning bylaw amendments passed by a two-thirds vote. A restriction on fences taller than six feet was approved, prompted by the potential building of so-called “spite fences” to annoy neighbors. Special permits for taller fences can still be obtained from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Other articles included a zoning map adjustment and an article allowing for temporary dwellings, like trailers, for extended periods of time in cases where someone’s home is “rendered uninhabitable.”

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