Among issues to be discussed by the group is whether to outright ban the sale of marijuana in the town, to limit the number of recreational marijuana facilities through a change in the zoning by-laws or to accept a temporary state moratorium on the issuance of host agreements for marijuana facilities.
MIDDLEBORO – Selectmen agreed to form a seven-member working group to make comprehensive recommendations on how the town should proceed under the state’s recreational marijuana laws.
The working group will be made up of two members of the Board of Selectmen, Town Manager Robert Nunes, Town Planner Leeann Bradley, Health Officer Robert Buker and two yet-to-be-chosen members of the Planning Board. Police Chief Joseph Perkins and Fire Chief Lance Benjamino will serve as advisors to the committee.
Selectmen voted unanimously Monday to appoint board members Allin Frawley and Neil Rosenthal to serve on the working group.
Among the issues to be discussed by the working group is whether to proceed with measures to ban the sale of marijuana in the town, to limit the number of recreational marijuana facilities through a change in the zoning by-laws, to accept a state moratorium on the issuance of host agreements for marijuana facilities through Dec. 31, and possibly through June 30, 2019.
The vote to form the working group followed an 18-page PowerPoint presentation by Jonathan Silverstein of KP Law, PC of Boston, recently hired by the town to serve as special council on the state’s marijuana laws.
On Nov. 8, 2016, 53 percent of Massachusetts voters approved Question 4 to legalize adult use of marijuana and marijuana facilities. Middleboro approved the measure by a vote of 52.5 percent in favor and 47.5 percent opposed, Silverstein noted in his presentation.
Middleboro has signed five host agreements for medical marijuana facilities and four of those agreements could also sell recreational marijuana because they signed prior to July 1, 2017. The vendors would have to apply to the state for a license and negotiate a new host agreement with the town.
The facilities are allowed in areas zoned under general use with a special permit issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Since Middleboro voted in favor of Question 4 to legalize marijuana, they would need to follow two steps to prohibit or limit the recreational marijuana facilities, said Silverstein. The ordinance or bylaw to prohibit or limit the recreational facilities would have to be voted by town meeting and also placed as a ballot question and approved by voters during a town or special election.
Planning Board member Tracy Marzelli said the Planning Board would have a recreational marijuana zoning by-law prepared for the Oct. 3 special town meeting. She also recommended the town prepare a ballot question for the April town election and that the town consider not signing any more agreements for marijuana facilities.
The town has the option to impose a temporary moratorium on applications for marijuana facilities. The state attorney general has imposed moratoriums through Dec. 31, but would likely approve them through June 30, 2019, according to Silverstein.
Timothy Shaw, of ARL Healthcare, Inc., asked selectmen if they were still going to consider his request for a host agreement for a recreational marijuana facility. Shaw was one of the first to be issued a host agreement for a medical marijuana facility and under the new regulations can also ask for a host agreement for a recreational facility.
Shaw told selectmen that if he is not issued a host agreement for a recreational marijuana then customers will go to neighboring towns which have signed agreements and Middleboro would lose that income. The state law allows towns to impose a 3-percent sales tax on the sale of marijuana products by a marijuana retailer within the city or town.
Frawley told the board it should consider Shaw’s request for a recreational host agreement with the provision that Shaw would have to follow any zoning changes voted by the town.
“My only motivation is for the best financial deal for the town,” said Frawley, who made a motion that the town manager enter into negotiations with Shaw for a host agreement for a marijuana recreational facility.
“Why waste time to negotiate?” asked Selectmen John Knowlton, stating the selectmen were “putting the cart before the horse,” and should wait for the recommendations from the working committee.
“It would be foolish to start negotiations (with Shaw),” said Rosenthal, noting that, “the Planning Board is setting up zoning regulations.”
“The prior (medical marijuana host) agreements are so bad, so full of holes, to have the town manager enter into one of these is foolish,” said Rosenthal, who was not on the Board of Selectmen when the prior medical marijuana host agreements were signed.
Selectmen voted 3-2 against Frawley’s motion to enter into negotiations with Shaw for a recreational facility. Frawley and Selectwoman Diane Stewart voted in favor of the motion with Knowlton, Rosenthal and selectmen Chairwoman Leilani Dalpe voting against it.