SOMERSET — The selectmen last Wednesday scheduled a Special Town Meeting for March 19, at which time voters will make a decision on a proposal to amend a town bylaw that will address establishments that could sell recreational marijuana in town.
The selectmen scheduled the Special Town Meeting for March 19 to try to get requirements on recreational marijuana establishments in place, before the state starts accepting applications for recreational marijuana establishments on April 1. Recreational marijuana establishments, if they are approved, would be allowed to open starting on July 1 in Massachusetts.
The amendment to the town's zoning bylaw that will be voted on at the Special Town Meeting, will allow recreational marijuana establishments in industrial and light industrial zones in Somerset. Those are the same zones where medical marijuana establishments are currently allowed.
Town Counsel Clement Brown said that he and Town Administrator Richard Brown worked on a bylaw that will cover both medical and recreational marijuana in Somerset. He said the bylaw addresses cultivators, retailers, social consumption establishments, laboratories and other issues.
Attorney Brown said recreational marijuana establishments would have the same requirements for setbacks as medical marijuana establishments.
Attorney Brown said the proposed bylaw amendments have been sent to Police Chief George McNeil, Zoning Board Chairman Steven Cadorette, Planning Board Chairman Gary Simons and Building Inspector Paul Boucher.
Under the proposed amendments to the bylaw, atty. Brown said the Police Department would review a list of management and staff that would work at a recreational marijuana establishment. He said Cadorette did not think his board could do that.
Atty. Brown said recreational or medical marijuana establishments would still need special permits from the Somerset Zoning Board of Appeals and state licenses in order to come into Somerset. He said voting on amendments to the town's zoning bylaw for recreational and medical marijuana establishments is a way for the town to be proactive with the issue.
Atty. Brown said state law does allow for the town to put a moratorium on marijuana establishments until the end of this year. He said marijuana can be banned in towns, but because Somerset voters decided in favor of allowing marijuana establishments in a state election, a special election would have to be held in town to ban marijuana.
Selectmen Chairman Steven Moniz said a moratorium would just be putting off addressing recreational marijuana establishments until the town decides what it wants to do. He said if a bylaw has already been worked on, it should be voted on at a Special Town Meeting before the state starts taking applications on April 1. Moniz said he was not in favor of a moratorium. Selectman Holly McNamara said she also wanted to vote on the bylaw relating to marijuana establishments at the March 19 Special Town Meeting because she said what will happen eventually, should be done immediately. Selectman David Berube said doing nothing to address recreational marijuana would not be good. He said accepting the bylaw that is being proposed would be proactive. Berube said the town putting a moratorium on marijuana establishments would just be kicking the can down the road.
Atty. Brown said any recreational marijuana establishments would have to comply to all state laws, which he said are very specific. He said the proposed town bylaw encompasses state law.
Moniz said the bylaw that will be voted on at the Special Town Meeting on March 19 is not an attempt to expand zoning for marijuana establishments. At two previous town meetings, voters were asked to expand that zoning for medical marijuana establishments, but the articles, while they did receive majority votes, did not receive the necessary two-thirds vote that is necessary to change zoning in Somerset.
The selectmen voted to refer the bylaw proposal to the Planning Board which will have a public hearing on the amendments before the Special Town Meeting is held.
Somerset resident Denise Jordan asked if there would be a change in the size of building allowed for marijuana establishments. Atty. Brown said there is not a maximum size limit for buildings for marijuana establishments in the bylaw. He said the sizes of them would be limited by setback requirements, which is the same as state law. The Somerset bylaw has setback requirements of at least 50 feet on the front, side and rear of the property that must be a minimum of 20,000 square feet. Any marijuana facility also must be a minimum of 200 feet from any lot zoned for residential purposes and at least 500 feet from schools, day care facilities for children or other educational institutions, parks, playgrounds, open space recreation areas, churches, synagogues, temples and other religious facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, long term care facilities or other medical facilities.
Jordan said Governor Charlie Baker has said that the Cannabis Control Commission allowing recreational marijuana to be sold in restaurants and bars and for home delivery is over reaching its authority. Atty. Brown said that under the state law, the commission had to be established and the commission had to draw up regulations and do the licensing for recreational marijuana establishments. He said if marijuana was to be sold in restaurants and bars in Somerset, it would still have to meet the requirements of the town's bylaw.
"It does not allow anything that the state law won't allow," atty. Brown said of the town bylaw.