Selectmen to Review Non-Medical Marijuana Option; Planning Board and Finance Committee Have Already Weighed In

By Meredith McCulloch

On Monday night the Selectmen will decide whether to include in the warrant for Special Town Meeting articles for a general bylaw and a zoning bylaw that, if approved, would prohibit growing, processing, or sale of non-medical marijuana in town. A third article would place a moratorium on marijuana establishments for one year. This week, in anticipation of Town Meeting, the Planning Board, and Finance Committee have already discussed the proposed bylaws and taken a position on each.

In 2016 legalizing marijuana was Question 4 on the state November ballot. The question was approved by the state as a whole by 53.7% allowing the sale of marijuana, “while regulating it in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages.” On the other hand, Bedford residents voted no by 53.6% to 46.4%.

In July 2017 the Massachusetts legislature passed and Governor Baker signed a compromise bill that established a Cannabis Control Commission, raised the tax on sales to 20%, and established a timeline for developing regulations. It also allowed localities, such as Bedford, that voted “no” to ban sales in their town.

One proposed article is a Zoning Bylaw Amendment (Article 4 -Zoning Bylaw Amendment – Non-Medical Marijuana Use) that would add a Prohibition on Non-Medical Marijuana Establishments. A companion General Bylaw article would also prohibit cultivation and sales.  The Municipal Law Unit in the Attorney General‘s Office recommends approval of both a General Bylaw and a Zoning Bylaw to effectively prohibit marijuana establishments within a community. The zoning bylaw requires a vote of 2/3 to pass, whereas the General ByLaw only needs a majority.

Another option, allowed under the compromise bill, would establish a moratorium until November 1, 2018.   The Selectmen may choose to also place that option on the warrant. The Planning Board favored this article because it would allow the town to postpone a decision until the Cannabis Control Commission issues its regulations that may impact a town’s decision. The Finance Committee voted to support both articles prohibiting marijuana sales but would recommend the moratorium should the other two articles prohibiting non-medical use fail.

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