Wareham Selectmen mull Special Town Meeting ahead of marijuana deadline

Jan 24, 2018

Uncertainty regarding the roll out of retail marijuana sales in Massachusetts this summer has Selectmen pondering the need for a Special Town Meeting.

Without the adoption of new zoning bylaws before April 1, “we could be vulnerable to have [retail marijuana shops] in places we don’t want them to be,” said Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

At the state level, the Cannabis Control Commission is currently drafting a framework for the oversight of retail marijuana shops. Those shops are due to open in July. It is currently legal to possess and grow marijuana for personal use. In November 2016, a state ballot question passed paving the way for recreational sales of marijuana in Massachusetts.

April 1 is the first day the state starts accepting license applications to sell recreational marijuana. Wareham has a moratorium in place regarding recreational sales that expires June 30. The moratorium was enacted to give officials time to draft bylaws governing the sale of marijuana in town. The state is scheduled to start issuing licenses starting June 1.

Currently, the Planning Board is reviewing a bylaw slated for a vote at the Annual Town Meeting, set for April 23. If retailers apply for licenses before the bylaw is in place, there's a chance they wouldn't be subject to town-specific regulations. State regulations would still apply.

To seek clarification, the town's legal counsel has asked for an opinion from the state's Attorney General's office on the matter, said Selectman Alan Slavin.

Under the draft bylaw, the number of recreational marijuana shops would be limited to two, tied to the number of liquor stores in town. The state recommends limiting pot shops to less than 20 percent of the number of package stores. In Wareham, there are 13 package stores.

That bylaw would also mostly adopt state marijuana guidelines, including rules that limit stores from opening within 500 feet of school. Marijuana stores would be limited to the general commercial, strip commercial and institutional districts. The general commercial district stretches on both sides of Route 28 from the I-195 on-ramp to the area of Robertson’s Auto Salvage.

The strip commercial district is located a little ways past Robertson’s Auto Salvage on Route 25 and extends to the Bourne town line. The institutional district is located near Tobey Hospital.

However, Slavin said that there is no guarantee from state officials that the town’s moratorium will prevent shops from opening before June 30.

Slavin recently attended an informational session on retail marijuana sales hosted by the Massachusetts Municipal Association. There, he learned many questions regarding retail sales still exist, including whether or not local moratoriums will prevent pot shops from opening.

Teitelbaum said he’s leaning towards holding a Special Town Meeting regardless of the Attorney General’s opinion. With local bylaws in place before April 1 the town will have some say in where retail marijuana stores are located in Wareham.

“That’s a prudent approach,” said Teitelbaum.

Selectmen will further discuss the possibility of calling a Special Town Meeting at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. in the Multi-Service Center, located at 48 Marion Road.