Council to roll up medical marijuana ordinances

WESTFIELD – The Legislative & Ordinance Committee will bring both the general and the zoning ordinance, being adopted to regulate and control medical marijuana facilities and use in the city, to the full City Council.
The two ordinances were developed by the Planning Board, based on a template created by a Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) regional task force and sent to the City Council. Two separate public hearings were conducted, one by the Planning Board and the other by the City Council.
Amendments to the proposed ordinances were made by the Planning Board and by the council’s Zoning, Planning & Development Committee.
Last night the L&O voted to present the general ordinance, as amended by both the Planning Board and ZP&D Committee, to the full City Council tomorrow night for a first reading. Adopting or amending an ordinance typically requires two readings, usually at sequential council sessions, and a vote for final passage.
L&O Chairman Brian Sullivan asked Principal Planner Jay Vinskey if the council’s legislative process would open the city to unrestricted medical marijuana facilities.
Vinskey said the general ordinance is not time-sensitive, but the zoning ordinance may be time-sensitive because the medical marijuana moratorium, adopted last June by the City Council, expires tomorrow and cannot be extended under a ruling by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Vinskey said the general ordinance addresses the “operational aspect” of the medical marijuana issue, while the zoning ordinance component controls where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can be located in the city.
“That ordinance is time-sensitive because the moratorium expires May 1,” Vinskey said. “The other issue is that the time to act on the ordinance following the public hearings expires before your meetings in June.”
Vinskey said that the “clock” begins to wind down on council action when its closes its public hearing. The council then has 90 days to vote on the proposed ordinance. That 90-day clock expires on Wednesday, June 4, 2014, the day before the Council’s first June meeting on Thursday June 5.
“The city would have to completely start over, which could take several months,” Vinskey said. The process includes an advertising period for new public hearings before both the City Council and Planning Board, then further review before the council was in position to act on the ordinance. The summer schedules for both the council and Planning Board could extend that process further.
At-large Councilor James R. Adams requested that Vinskey communicate with the Police Department, which would have an enforcement role for both ordinances, to ensure that the ordinances provide them with sufficient enforcement capabilities before the final passage of the ordinances.
Sullivan noted that the ordinances could be amended to address Adam’s concern before the second reading of the local legislation.
Sullivan also raised the issue of the annual fee which could be assessed on medical marijuana facilities by the Board of Health under its authority to regulate medical marijuana and defined in the general ordinance.
The Planning Board recommended that the Health Board assess a fee “of no less than $15,000 annually.” Sullivan said he would be more comfortable with an annual fee of $25,000 because state law requires the dispensaries and cultivators to be non-profit entities which are exempt from most property taxes.
Adams said the annual fee is basically an in-lieu-of-tax payment to the city and asked Vinskey how the Planning Board arrived at the $15,000 figure. Vinskey said that is the median amount of property tax paid by commercial property owners.
“We can bring it out for the first reading,” Sullivan said, “and still have two weeks to figure out how the city benefits from having these facilities here. I don’t want to zone it and then find out we can’t collect (the annual fee).”

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