MASSACHUSETTS: This fall, a large committee plans to draft a Westford-centric bylaw for medical-marijuana dispensaries, though that doesn’t necessarily mean any companies are considering coming to town any time soon.
Since Massachusetts voted last fall to allow medical-marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in state, 181 nonprofit groups have applied to the government for consideration. The state Department of Public Health is allowing a maximum of five dispensaries per county on a “first-come, first-served” basis.
Middlesex County has 47 applications so far, but the department has yet to announce which ones meet their criteria.
Last November, in the general election, 58.2 percent of Westford voted in favor of permitting medical marijuana, and each precinct voted in the majority, with an average turnout rate of 80 percent across town.
But even with those high numbers of support, a moratorium was put into place to allow the town time to put into place a specific bylaw addressing the subject and to hold public hearings, according to Director of Land Use Management Chris Kluchman. That period is set to end in June.
In advance of that, the Planning Board is working to establish an 11-person committee, with five representatives from the public as well as members from different town groups, including the Police and School departments.
The committee, known as the Registered Marijuana Dispensaries Group, will start meeting as soon as early October, according to Town Planner Jeff Morrisette. The committee will aim to have a recommendation for the Planning Board by January, and from there, the board will hold public hearings on the subject leading up to spring Town Meeting.
Morrisette said if all goes according to plan, a bylaw will be ready for residents to take a vote then.
Kluchman said the committee will meet to discuss many different issues on the subject, all pertaining to planning issues, including the allowed size of dispensary buildings, parking, zoning mapping for allowed locations, and policies related to patients growing their own cannabis at home.
She said, however, that those steps are not indicative of any applicants looking to set up a business in Westford. Kluchman said that to her knowledge, the town has not yet been contacted by any nonprofit agencies, and businesses may look to go to more populated areas, like Lowell.
One applicant has already come forward in neighboring Littleton, where residents are already mulling what kind of impact a dispensary could have there.
Kluchman said the situation is comparable to tattoo parlors and adult bookstores — Westford has bylaws for those, too, yet none have established themselves within the town’s borders, she said.
“We’re basically preparing because it’s been a use that’s been allowed by the commonwealth,” Kluchman said. “Rules have been promulgated.”
Massachusetts is among 20 states that have authorized medical marijuana. According to The Associated Press, applicants are competing for a maximum of 35 licenses allowed under law, which will make marijuana available to patients with certain medical conditions, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS.
David Kibbe, communications director for the state Department of Public Health, said the next steps for his group include reviewing all of the collected applications. He said the process can be very competitive, and there are specific requirements each applicant must meet.