Planning Board Discusses Medical Marijuana Bylaw

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A medical marijuana bylaw was refined by the Planning Board during their Tuesday, March 11 meeting to discuss articles for the upcoming Town Meeting warrant. The bylaw will restrict where in Hopkinton a medical marijuana dispensary can be built should the town be picked to host such a facility.

Five medical marijuana dispensaries are currently allowed in each Massachusetts county with four towns already chosen to host one in Middlesex County. Hopkinton voted at the 2013 Town Meeting to have a one year moratorium to give time to create a bylaw for a dispensary. The bylaw created by the Zoning Advisory Committee passed 6-1. It allowed a facility by right in the Business, Downtown Business, Rural Business, Industrial A and Industrial B Districts and by special permit in the Office Park, Professional Office and OSMUD Districts as long as the facility was not within 500 feet of a school, day care, place of worship, Sandy Beach, or any other place children may gather. The Planning Board was the Board chosen to grant the special permit as they would also be the ones to examine the site plans for a dispensary. Once passed, the bylaw was sent to the Planning Board for approval.

Board member Claire Wright felt that the bylaw as presented left the town open to unforeseen consequences and wanted to see the dispensary allowed only in one section of the town, away from residents, such as in the Industrial Districts. According to the Massachusetts Medical Society, medical marijuana has not been approved by the FDA and it is believed that the use of marijuana can lead to other dangerous behaviors.

“I understand that it’s something we need to deal with, but I feel that we owe it to our townspeople to make every effort to protect them from the potential problems of this,” said Wright.

Wright also stated that it would be easier to modify a restrictive bylaw and make it less restrictive as needed than to modify a bylaw to make it more restrictive. Board member John Ferrari also felt that the bylaw would be difficult to pass because a resident would not want to be associated with the dispensary.

“I understand the logic of it, but I find it hard in this town that somebody who’s across the street or around the corner from an approved area is going to say ‘I’m totally in favor of it,’” said Ferrari.

However, Zoning Advisory Chairman and Planning Board Vice-Chairman John Coutinho stated that during deliberations, Zoning Advisory Committee members were divided. Some wanted to have the policy more restrictive and other members felt that the dispensary should be able to go anywhere in town. Making a bylaw too restrictive or not restrictive enough may lead to the bylaw being turned down at Town Meeting.

As Roy MacDowell, the developer of Legacy Farms and Paul Mastroianni, the owner of all the land in the Office Park District, were not interested in having a dispensary in the OSMUD or Office Park District, the two districts were taken out of the proposed bylaw. The Professional Office District was removed from the proposed bylaw because it is in the middle of a residential area as was the Downtown Business District because of a lack of a suitable area for a dispensary. All of the remaining districts were changed to have a dispensary by special permit instead of by right.

The final bylaw allows a medical marijuana dispensary by special permit in the Business, Rural Business, Industrial A and Industrial B Districts. The Planning Board will now vote whether to support it or not at Town Meeting where it will need a ⅔ vote to be approved.

To see the full meeting, click here.