NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – Voters at the May 7 spring annual town meeting in Northbridge will be asked to approve a temporary zoning moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
The Board of Selectmen agreed at a meeting last week to sponsor the town meeting warrant article at the request of Planning Board.
Town Planner Gary Bechtholdt said the Planning Board must hold a public hearing on the zoning proposal and will set a date for that hearing at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
At a meeting Jan. 10, Bechtholdt said Planning Board members discussed the Medical Marijuana Act approved by voters in the 2012 state election that went into effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The act legalizes the dispensing of medical marijuana. The state Department of Public Health is in the process of developing regulations, a process that must be completed by May 1.
Once regulations are in place, the DPH will be allowed to register up to 35 non-profit treatment centers in the state.
Bechtholdt, Police Chief Walter Warchol, Board of Health administrator Jeanne Gniadek and Town Manager Theodore Kozak attended the Jan. 10 Planning Board meeting and supported the proposed temporary moratorium, Bechtholdt told selectmen.
“Many communities like Northbridge are currently reviewing their options for zoning changes in preparation for town meeting/local adoption. Some municipalities have already revised their zoning bylaw/ordinances to prohibit medical marijuana dispensing sites (Reading, Wakefield and Melrose, to name a few), while others have considered moratoriums,” Bechtholdt said.
He said town counsel has been asked to review and offer an opinion on whether prohibiting dispensaries is likely to be upheld if appealed or challenged.
In addition to discussing medical marijuana dispensaries, Bechtholdt said the group discussed whether licensed growers/suppliers would fall under the state’s agricultural exemption.
“There are still many unknowns at this time,” Bechtholdt said.
Several communities are considering temporary moratoriums, and Town Council provided suggested wording for the town meeting bylaw, Bechtholdt said.
A moratorium would give Northbridge time to review the DPH regulations and prepare a local zoning bylaw appropriate for the town, he said.