Attorney General rejects Rochester’s moratorium extension on marijuana businesses

Dec 18, 2018

ROCHESTER — Rochester was one of three towns whose moratorium on marijuana businesses was rejected by State Attorney General Maura Healey on Dec. 4. 

The attorney general’s Municipal Law Unit struck down measures passed by Rochester, as well as Plympton and Natick, that would have extended temporary bans on pot shops and marijuana facilities in 2019.

The town's current moratorium was intended to block non-medical marijuana establishments, including growers and sellers, from applying for a retail license before the state returned with regulations on marijuana sales and zoning.

Rochester’s moratorium will expire in January, and after that the town will need start accepting applications for marijuana businesses. The extension would have given Rochester until June 30 to start accepting applications. 

Rochester has already passed a bylaw which restricts medical marijuana businesses to the industrial district, located in the northern part of town near SEMASS. There has not been zoning completed in regards to recreational marijuana. 

The attorney general’s office said in a statement that moratorium extensions must be tied to an ongoing planning process. In Rochester’s case, the Planning Board only informally considered a draft bylaw allowing recreational marijuana, but never scheduled a hearing on the matter. 

In other words, the attorney general expressed that Rochester should have completed the bylaw process at this point.

Municipalities, according to state law, are not allowed to adopt a ban on marijuana shops. In the case of Rochester, it must choose to accept pot shops or impose a temporary moratorium while local officials work on local zoning rules and licensing requirements. 

The attorney general’s office added that it is illegal for towns to use moratoriums as a delay tactic.

The next step for the town is to draft a zoning bylaw for recreational marijuana facilities and present it to town voters at the annual Town Meeting.