ROCHESTER — An extended recreational marijuana moratorium in Rochester went up in smoke in January. Now, Rochester Planning Board members have cultivated new restrictions for any budding marijuana businesses in Rochester.
Planning Board members weeded out any concerns with the proposed zoning bylaw, which will restrict recreational marijuana-related businesses to certain areas of the town, on March 12.
Next steps? A joint effort, as Planning Board members pass the draft to the Board of Selectmen for final approval.
Planning Board members had no choice but to scramble in creating the proposed bylaw, after Attorney General Maura Healy threw out an extended recreational marijuana moratorium in January. The moratorium would have delayed applications for recreational marijuana shops and facilities in Rochester until June 30.
Without the moratorium, Rochester was required to begin accepting and considering applicants for recreational marijuana-related businesses beginning in January, without any zoning restrictions in place.
Without zoning bylaws, owners of recreational marijuana businesses can apply to open on any commercially-zoned lot. Medical marijuana businesses are, on the other hand, restricted to the
town’s industrial zone, along the Wareham border.
Planning Board members have discussed the bylaw at previous meetings; of primary concern was the ability to put restrictions on outdoor marijuana cultivation in town.
Town Counsel Blair Bailey looked into the matter further, to see if state regulations allowed the limiting of outdoor cultivation.
As it turns out though, Bailey said, outdoor marijuana cultivation likely won’t be developing deep roots in Rochester. "I looked into it, and we turns out that we can legally limit outdoor cultivation, but there's really no need to," he explained. "Everything is easier when you have a greenhouse.”
Marijuana is a 120-day crop. “That's about the length of an average growing season on the South Coast,” he explained. “That’s one crop per year.” Meanwhile, the finicky
plant can be grown year-round in a greenhouse.
Greenhouse cultivation, Bailey added, is much simpler for security matters as well. Massachusetts state regulations require extensive security requirements for outdoor cultivation.
"An outdoor crop needs to be surrounded by a fence, and the entire fence perimeter needs to be lit so that everything can be seen,” he stated. “The security plan needs to be submitted to the Cannabis Control Commission and, depending on town regulations, to the police chief as well.”
In the course of his research, Bailey also found out that the state of Massachusetts doesn’t consider marijuana to be an agricultural crop. Therefore, according to state law, it can’t be
grown on agricultural land without a town permit.
Bailey did note that private residents are allowed to possess six marijuana plants per person, or 12 plants per total household. The private regulations will be unaffected by town bylaws.
With all doubts dispelled, the board members voted to pass the draft bylaw to the Board of Selectmen, who will hold a hearing on it. If the selectmen approve the bylaw, it will come back to the Planning Board for a public hearing in the future.