The Haze is Beginning to Clear on Marijuana Rules

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Marijuana

John Lipman and others critiqued the planning board's proposed marijuana zoning bylaws.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS About 60 people packed a hearing room at town hall July 24 to talk about the planning board's proposed zoning bylaw amendments to regulate the sale, cultivation and other uses of marijuana. Although it wasn't part of the hearing agenda, Selectman David Currier was on hand to discuss his own proposed amendment, which is under review by town counsel.

The back-and-forth made it clear that there's still time to come together on a final version to be submitted to town meeting in October. To keep the conversation going, the board continued the public hearing to Aug. 14.

“We already have an applicant chomping at the bit to get an application in as soon as possible,” Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey told the board near the end of the evening.

There was nary a seat to be had as chairman Chip Bechtold welcomed “as big a crowd as we've had here in my history on the board.” Before introducing Meservey, he said, “We've had comments from dozens of individuals. The board has learned a lot along the way.”

Meservey said the proposed bylaw amendment regulates all types of uses - “cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, testers” - and would allow them in the general and limited business districts and the village center. A second bylaw proposed by the board would allow limited cultivation in residential districts.

In the current draft, the number of retailers would be limited to 20 percent of the number of liquor stores in town. Meservey explained that the bylaw had been based on five stores but should have been based on more, including those with only wine and malt licenses. Thus, the one marijuana establishment allowed in the draft should be two.

That was one of the points that prompted Currier to prepare his own zoning amendment; his would limit retail establishments to four, or 50 percent of the number of existing licenses for the sale of alcohol not to be consumed on the premises.

Currier's proposal, which was not an official part of the public hearing on the planning board's own amendments, drew praise from John Lipman. “I've been working with a number of other people in town on developing some tweaks to the bylaw to make it more effective,” he said of the board's draft. “I drafted some changes that made the bylaw more exact, more detailed, more sensitive. I believe some of those changes were shared with Selectman Currier. Last week, he put together his own version of the bylaws and and introduced it to the selectmen. Selectman Currier and I may have had one or two disagreements over issues in town, but clearly he picked up (on things) and his version does an excellent job.”

(Later, Currier observed, “If John Lipman and I agree on anything, it's got to be” worthwhile.)

Four licensed retail establishments “seems reasonable,” Lipman said. “Given the tough regulations and competitiveness of the industry, I'd be surprised if we wound up with more than two.” He said the draft's original limit of two for any other type of use should be eliminated. Most of those, he said, “would be invisible.”

One use that would not be, Lipman noted, is cultivation. “I advocated that small-scale cultivation in residential areas be limited to a maximum of 5,000 square feet,” he said. “Probably half of that is sufficient.” He called “prudent” Currier's proposed language, which would limit cultivation in those districts to 5 percent of lot area with a maximum of 5,000 square feet. “That would give those voters who might be hesitant to support (cultivation there) a greater sense of control,” he said.

Speaking for the agricultural advisory council, Judy Scanlon said members recommended there be no restrictions on the number of licenses for small-scale cultivation. “Two licenses could be taken by a large-scale (use) in the industrial zone and shut out small farmers,” she said. The council asked that existing barns and greenhouses be grandfathered when considering setbacks from property lines.

Carl Trevison said he had concerns about cultivation in residential neighborhoods, “places where children congregate. It's not that a growing field will harm that, (but) I don't know if it's sending a great message. I assume there are agricultural areas in town.”

Speaking as an individual, Scanlon said, “Our small farms in Orleans are located in residential areas. We don't have an agricultural district per se... We are discussing small-scale cultivation. A greenhouse could be full of tomatoes or cannabis plants and nobody would know.” She added that “extremely stringent” security requirements for cultivation operations will prevent many people from participating in the business.

John Sargent remained unconvinced. “Tell me one place that wouldn't be harmed economically if one of these (cultivation in residential districts) went in next to you... This is like somebody coming and saying, 'I have the ability to fix cars, so I want to open a garage in my residential area.' You're opening the door to all sorts of problems.”

The controversy was what prompted the planning board to propose two bylaw amendments, one dealing specifically with cultivation in residential areas. That would give town meeting the option of endorsing the bulk of marijuana establishment rules in one article and voting on residential cultivation in another. Currier proposes to combine both matters in one article.

In a “morning after” report to Town Administrator John Kelly, Meservey noted that the board had continued the hearing on its two articles to Aug. 14 to take more testimony. “Lastly,” he wrote, “on the question of allowing Marijuana Cultivators in the Residential Districts, the Board continued to wrestle with the question, with no clear direction evident at this time.”

What was clear, Meservey wrote, was that the board was leaning toward increasing the number of retailers allowed in the current draft and not limiting other types of marijuana establishments.

At meeting's end, Bechtold stepped down after two years as chairman and vice chair Andrea Reed was elected chair unanimously. She nominated Chet Crabtree as vice chair, with similar results.