By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The Board of Selectmen discussed the opt-out option of recreational marijuana at their Oct. 16 meeting. This option would ban the establishment of recreational marijuana and other related activities in Northborough.
A temporary moratorium which prohibits the use of land or structures for a recreational marijuana establishment until June 30, 2018, was adopted at the April Annual Town Meeting. Northborough is also considered a “No Community” based on Question 4 results from the Nov. 8, 2016 General Election at which time 4,440 residents voted yes and 4,531 residents voted no.
As a No Community, the law allows Northborough the ability to opt out. As such, Northborough only needs approval from Town Meeting.
Town Planner Kathy Joubert appeared before the board to report on where the town stood at the present time regarding this issue.
“At the last Town Meeting, the Planning Board proposed a temporary moratorium so that the town could study and come up to speed and hopefully develop regulations for the next Town Meeting [in 2018],” Joubert explained.
She also stated that the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board would first need to vote to opt out, and then create two articles for the next Town Meeting: one zoning article and one general bylaw, both prohibiting non-medical marijuana establishments. Additionally, it was recommended to include an article regulating marijuana usage on the warrant, as a fall back measure, should these articles fail.
A five-member Cannabis Control Commission will be appointed and, by March 15, 2018, will have adopted regulations and guidelines for issuing recreational marijuana establishment licenses. Further, no earlier than April 1, 2018 can the commission begin accepting applications for these licenses and, no earlier than June 1, 2018, can licenses begin to be issued.
Board of Selectmen Chair Jason Perreault, inquired, “To what extent can we rely on the moratorium to protect us so that we can make use of that time and that Town Meeting to enact whatever bylaws we choose to enact?”
Town Administrator John Coderre has town counsel’s assurance that the moratorium will protect the Town
Selectman Leslie Rutan said, “I hope the moratorium prevails and negates the need for a special Town Meeting. It seems silly that they would stick with an April 1 date knowing full well that many towns and cities would have to have a special Town Meeting and spend upwards of $9,000 to $10,000 to do that.”
Another discussion point was when the zoning bylaw would go into effect. According to the attorney generals’ office, they have 90 days to review zoning bylaws. They can decline a bylaw, but a zoning bylaw is in effect as soon as it is approved at Town Meeting.
Rutan wanted to know if the bylaw would also prohibit shops that sold paraphernalia. Coderre replied that the bylaw would need to include language that was clear. Medical marijuana and how it fits in with recreational was also discussed. The lines have been blurred between medical and recreational. Northborough does not have a medical marijuana bylaw nor are there any dispensaries in town. The bylaw can prohibit both medical and recreational.
Because of the uncertainty of the state laws and the letters received from citizens urging the same, the board was unanimous in their desire to opt out fully. The board said they will work with town counsel and consult with the attorney general’s office to understand everything that needs to go into crafting the best bylaw that fully meets the best interest of the town. A memo to this effect will be sent to the Planning Board.