Council sets medical marijuana hearing

WESTFIELD – The City Council will initiate the review of the proposed medical marijuana ordinances this week as municipal agencies push to have the local zoning in place before May 1, 2014 when the moratorium will end.
The Planning Board, working in concert with other communities and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, developed a draft boilerplate zoning ordinance and general ordinance which will be the focus of the public hearing slated for the City Council’s session Thursday night.
The council typically sends proposed zoning and ordinances issues to committee to await a recommendation from the Planning Board which will conduct its own public hearing on March 18. The Planning Board is not meeting tomorrow or on Tuesday,  April 1, because of the special elections to elect a new state representative.
Tomorrow is a preliminary election to determine if any write-in candidates will have their name added to the ballot in addition to the two candidates who submitted signature petitions to qualify for the ballot. A write-in candidate must receive 150 votes to earn a spot on the ballot.
The timing of the primary and special election on those Tuesdays could slow final passage of the medical marijuana ordinances. State law prohibits any governmental agency, including the Planning Board from conducting public hearings and election days to prevent a conflict and may delay discussion of the board’s recommendation to the City Council.
The Planning Board sent the proposed zoning ordinance, which will replace the existing ordinance, Section 4-90, which now prohibits the sale of drug paraphernalia, to the City Council in late January. The proposed ordinance includes definitions, regulates zoning for dispensaries and marijuana processing facilities, as well as other requirements and provisions.
The proposed zoning ordinance would limit dispensaries to the Industrial Zone through site approval processes and in Business B districts by special permit.
The Planning Board made several adjustments to the draft ordinance from the PVPC work group. The site plan process would require applicants to “provide adequate and appropriate security measures” and that projects be “designed to minimize any adverse or inconsistent visual or olfactory impacts on the immediate neighborhood” and that applicants are “reasonable capable of meeting all applicable regulations and permitting requirements of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
The special permit process requires applicants to show that a “project is compatible with, and will not have adverse economic effect on surrounding areas, as well as meeting the standards of the site plan process.”
The board also increased the buffer between dispensaries and schools, playgrounds, pre-school and day-care facilities or places where children congregate. The draft buffer was set at 300 feet, but the board increased that buffer to 500 feet Tuesday.
The proposed ordinance now reads:
“The secured limits of a proposed Marijuana Dispensary or Marijuana Processing Operation shall not be located within 500 feet of a facility used, at the time of the first notice of public hearing, for an elementary, middle or high school, or for a playground, pre-school, child day care center or other location intended principally as a place for on-site services for children, or wherein children commonly congregate in a formal, structured or scheduled manner; nor, unless an additional Special Permit so specifically authorizes, within 300 feet of any residential dwelling unit, transient-type housing structure or structure used for religious worship .”
City Planner Jay Vinskey, who was a member of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission workgroup which adopted a boilerplate draft of the ordinance for cities and towns to adapt to their specific needs, said the 300-foot buffer “is a starting point based on the model ordinance.”
“We’re defining a new use. We’re creating a new category of use with a lot of safeguards,” Vinskey said.
Those safeguards will echo state regulations, as well as address local issues and concerns. The state requires dispensaries and processing facilities to keep detailed records, including disposal of waste material.
The zoning ordinance will be referred back by the City Council to the Planning Board which will initiate the public review of the proposed ordinance language at a public hearing. Following that public hearing, the zoning ordinance, with any amendments, will be go back to the City Council for final action.
Under the provisions of that ordinance dispensaries are prohibited from selling lottery tickets, tobacco or nicotine delivery products, may not contain an office of a physician or other professional practitioner who proscribes or certifies the use of medical marijuana. Hours of operation of a dispensary are restricted from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
No medical marijuana facilities have been approved by the state in Westfield, but officials want to have local regulation in place before the next round of facilities are considered by the state. The state law limits the number of dispensaries to five per county. Hampden County currently has one approved.

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