Planning Board weeds out options for marijuana regulations

Nov 21, 2017

With deadlines looming, the Mattapoisett Planning Board is trying to figure out what to do next about regulating recreational marijuana.

If there is no bylaw in place by the state mandated April 1, 2018 deadline, theoretically dispensaries could open up in any area zoned for retail. To figure out options, the Planning Board had attorney Katherine Laughman in to present on Monday night.

The town can add its own regulations, namely the time, place and manner of marijuana establishments, but the bylaws need to be voted in at Town Meeting. It’s too late to get anything on the agenda for next week’s Fall Town Meeting, but the Annual Town Meeting in May will be more than a month after the April 1 deadline.

“That window is problematic,” Town Administrator Mike Gagne said. “You’ll have license requests that come in [on April 1], so if you want to have a clean slate, you’ll want to get it done before then.”

Essentially, the town’s best option at this point is to hold another special Town Meeting this winter to vote on a moratorium. That way, town officials have more time to plan and come up with regulations and bylaws to vote on either at the Annual Town Meeting next May, or the Fall Town Meeting in November 2018.

“I think we need to have a moratorium,” Police Chief Mary Lyons said. “We need to figure out what the real benefit to the town is…There are a lot of safety issues to consider too…We should put the time into informing our public and making the right decision to benefit everyone.”

Before scheduling another Town Meeting to vote on a moratorium, the Planning Board wants to have a public forum for residents to come out and get information, as well as voice their opinions on what the town should do.

While Mattapoisett did vote “no” on Question 4, which legalized recreational marijuana in the 2016 state election, it was only by a small margin – 2,220 voted against legalization while 2,073 voted for. The board hopes that a public forum would give them a better idea of what residents really want.

“If people are confused, a public forum could give us a sense,” Planning Board member Nathan Ketchel said. “We can hear whether they just want to grow plants in their backyard or if they want something for retail purposes.”

The board tentatively scheduled a public forum for their Dec. 4 meeting, pending availability from Laughman and members of other boards. If that doesn’t work, the board will try for Dec. 11.

“The sooner the better,” Planning Board Chair Thomas Tucker said. “If it’s important to people, they’ll show up.”