Newton looking at zoning for medical marijuana
Newton — City officials are considering zoning regulations that would limit the locations for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.The Zoning and Planning Committee of the Board of Aldermen will look at the issue on Sept. 23, according to Dori Zaleznik, the city’s public health commissioner. The committee will likely take up a recommendation from a working group of city officials and aldermen calling for limiting the facilities legalized by voters last November to manufacturing or business districts.
Zaleznik said the proposal is a starting point for a discussion as the state prepares to begin approving dispensaries by the end of the year.
The zoning ordinance change would limit facilities that grow their own marijuana to manufacturing zones. Zaleznik said she believes the state would prefer dispensaries that sell and grow their product in the same facility.
If a group were looking to just open a facility to sell marijuana, it would be limited to business districts and would have to be as much as 1,000 feet from a church, school or daycare center, under the proposed change. The state regulations call for any facility to be at least 500 feet from any school or daycare center.
Zaleznik said board would still have a window to consider a temporary moratorium if members felt they needed more time. The working group consisted of representatives from the Board of Aldermen, and the police, planning and health departments.
Alderman Brian Yates, who serves on Zoning and Planning and was part of the working group, said he would prefer to restrict the facilities to high-traffic areas outside village centers such mixed-use zones buffered from residential areas.
Yates had concerns about manufacturing zones because many of those parcels are near residential areas, and he worried a 1,000-foot restriction would rule out nearly all of the sites in the city. He said it’s an issue of balancing what’s fair for the owners and patients with the needs and safety of the residents.
Last month, the state Department of Health received 181 applications from groups seeking to operate dispensaries throughout the state. The state law restricts the number of licensed dispensaries to 35, with a maximum of five per county.
A TAB review of state filing records found only Boston had more applications for headquartered facilities than Newton. With more than a dozen organizations based in Newton, the city has more than twice as many as the next closest municipality.
It’s unclear why so many applicants came from Newton. And just because a company is based in the city doesn’t necessarily mean it intends to open a dispensary here.
Of the Newton-based groups, only six are targeting facilities in Middlesex County, with the rest seeking to operate in Bristol, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk counties.
A representative for 1 Releaf, one of the Newton-based groups looking at Middlesex County, said they chose the city for its headquarters because they had a commercial site available to use, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the group is looking to operate in Newton. He declined to identify the exact sites they were looking at, citing the highly competitive nature of the application process.
The first phase of the state’s application reviews will be completed this month, after which the state will allow those bidders to look at municipalities and locations to cite those facilities as part of the second phase of approvals.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health didn’t comment specifically on questions from the TAB regarding the number of applicants from Newton.
At least six people contacted the city about opening dispensaries, some saying they were partnering with people in Newton, but Zaleznik said she didn’t see any of those individuals attached to the list of applicants to the state. She said she didn’t know why so many applicants were based in Newton, but she has always believed the city would be an attractive site because of its proximity to major highways and public transportation.
By Trevor Jones