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Westminster Weighs Bylaw to Block Retail Pot

July 21, 2018

WESTMINSTER -- The town could become the second community in North Central Massachusetts to bar marijuana retailers, following Lancaster, which banned retail at its spring Town Meeting.

The town is planning to pursue a referendum about whether to ban retail sales before the moratorium expires in December, said Town Planner Stephen Wallace.

“We’re looking to allow the industrial side of it but not retail,” he said.

Cultivation, processing and distribution are the types of marijuana establishments that could be allowed in Westminster.

Proposed regulations would tie the number of marijuana-related businesses to the number of state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries, of which there are two, that might open in town, said Wallace. That means only two marijuana cultivators or processors would be allowed to open in town.

He said the goal is to have a bylaw ready for Town Meeting and a ballot question to ban retail sales by the end of the year, which is when Westminster’s moratorium expires.

The bylaw has been drafted and is being reviewed by town counsel.

This is the direction municipalities voted for in the 2016 state referendum -- known as Question 4 -- to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults age 21 and older, according to the Cannabis Control Commission, the state agency that regulates the industry.

Westminster voters narrowly supported Question 4, by a margin of 60 votes.

A separate, local nonbinding ballot question in May showed a majority of Westminster voters oppose retail sales.

To help determine what direction to go in, Wallace gave the Board of Selectmen three options to pursue: limit most types of recreational establishments, allow only industrial uses like growing and processing, and place no limits on the type of establishments.

The town also gave the public the opportunity to send in comments about regulations. Fewer than 20 people responded, Wallace said, and a majority of them wanted a total ban on marijuana establishments. Other comments were in support of allowing only industrial uses or a mix of that and retail, he said.

It ultimately was up to the selectmen for the town to pursue cultivation, processing and distribution, Wallace said.

Agricultural Commission Chair M.L. Altobelli said Westminster’s bylaw is expected to be available to the commission, town departments and committees to review in the early fall.

“We will be involved in any onward discussions,” she said. “The group is willing to support any legal agricultural activity in town.”

Residents will also get a chance to discuss the bylaw with the board at a public hearing.

Many cities and towns in the region are working toward enacting the necessary local regulations to allow recreational marijuana retailers.

Ashby approved zoning for allowing recreational marijuana retailers at its spring Town Meeting.

Fitchburg, which has had a cultivator operating in the city for over two years, finalized its zoning regulations in June.

The Leominster City Council passed the first reading of its proposed zoning regulations Thursday. The regulations, before adoption, must still have a public hearing and a second vote of the council.

Shirley voters tried to ban all recreational marijuana-related business at a Special Town Meeting in March. The town ended up adopting zoning for recreational and medical marijuana businesses.

Ayer already has finalized its zoning regulations for all marijuana establishments.

Ashburnham and Lunenburg are crafting bylaws to regulate marijuana-related businesses.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz

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