Weeding through Wareham's marijuana regulations

Feb 07

Marijuana regulations in Massachusetts have seen massive changes over the past decade.

The shift started in 2008 when state voters decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the drug. Then, in 2012, voters legalized medicinal marijuana use. In 2016, voters legalized sales of recreational marijuana.

Now, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission is drafting regulations on how recreational marijuana can be sold and grown. Those regulations will determine how the retail industry operates.

Recreational marijuana retail sales are expected to start this summer, and Wareham voters will soon decide if they want to restrict the number of pot shops in town to threee, limit where they can open and impose a 3 percent sales tax sales.

With shifting deadlines for state regulations, questions surrounding state versus town regulations and the emergence of recreational use alongside the existing medical marijuana industry, the issues can be confusing.

How do I voice my opinion?

Weigh in on the proposed bylaws regulating sales and taxes on recreational marijuana at a public hearing on Feb. 12.

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Multi-Service Center, 48 Marion Road.

It’s important for residents to attend this meeting, as the bylaws will need to be approved at Special Town Meeting on March 12. However, Town Meeting requirements will not allow voters to make substantial changes to the bylaws as they are presented at Town Meeting. Therefore, the time to voice your opinions and concerns to potentially influence the drafting of the bylaws is at the Feb. 12 public hearing.

What regulations are proposed for recreational marijuana?

State regulations currently place some restrictions on the stores, such as prohibiting them from opening within 500 feet of a school or anywhere children normally congregate.

Voters at Town Meeting will be asked to approve three bylaws related to zoning (where in town the retail stores can be located) and one that addresses whether the town should collect a 3 percent tax from recreational marijuana sales. Three percent is the maximum amount of tax allowed for retail marijuana in Massachusetts.

Currently proposed regulations would limit the number of recreational marijuana shops in Wareham to three, 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.

If adopted, the bylaws would also require stores to open in 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 just past Robertson’s Auto Salvage on Route 25 and extends to the Bourne town line. The institutional district is located near Tobey Hospital.

If the bylaws do not pass at Town Meeting, the town will be left without local rules governing retail marijuana. Again, the time to influence the content of the proposed bylaws is at the Feb. 12 public hearing.

Who came up with these proposals?

Zoning bylaws are drafted by the Planning Board. The Board of Selectmen proposed the tax. Both must be approved by Town Meeting voters in order to take effect.

Why a Special Town Meeting?

The state has an April 1 deadline for passing its own recreational marijuana regulations. April 1 marks the first day the Cannabis Control Commission must start accepting applications from potential marijuana retailers, cultivators and product manufacturers.

If the town does not approve local bylaws regulating recreational marijuana before April 1, it could have no say in how many or where retail stores can operate, or whether or how much sales will be taxed.

The town has a ban, or “moratorium” on recreational marijuana sales until June 30, a move made because officials knew it would take time to draft local bylaws. Even if applications are approved, retail establishments would be unable to open in Wareham until after that date.

Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 12, at 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium.

What’s going on with medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in November 2012 and has separate regulations from recreational marijuana.

Now, there are 19 registered marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts open for sales. There are 45,505 active patients in the state.

The state restricts the number of medical marijuana facilities per county. Medical and retail marijuana shops cannot be run in the same establishment; they must be separated.

Compassionate Care Clinics is a medical marijuana facility that plans to open at 112 Main St. near Tobey Hospital. Though the dispensary was projected to open in 2017, there have been delays and issues with paperwork.

In 2015, Selectmen authorized a memorandum of understanding between the town and Compassionate Care. Part of the deal includes having Compassionate Care pay the town $100,000 during its first year of operation, then $125,000 for the second year and $150,000 for the third year.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have their work cut out for them in complying with safety and security regulations.

“These are not going to be mom and pop operations,” Slavin said, since there are expensive measures that must be taken in opening a facility.

Anybody else interested in selling?

Director of Planning & Community Development Kenneth Buckland said his department has received interest from three potential applicants. One inquired about a medical marijuana operation and another asked about a retail project with on-site growing and processing facilities, he said.

Refresh my memory...

How did we get here?

In November 2016, voters passed a state ballot question that paved the way for recreational sales of marijuana in the state. Parts of that new law went into effect on Dec. 15, 2016.

On that day, people who were at least 21 years old could possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana inside their home and up to one ounce outside.

Residents may grow up to six marijuana plants at home. Smoking marijuana remains illegal wherever smoking tobacco is illegal.

Important meetings

Monday, February 12, 7 p.m.

Public hearing on the Town of Wareham’s recreational marijuana regulations.

The meeting will be held in the Multi-Service Center, located at 48 Marion Road.

This is when residents can impact the content of the bylaws.

Monday, March 12, 7 p.m.

Special Town Meeting during which voters will be asked to approve the town’s recreational marijuana bylaws.

The meeting will be held in the Wareham High School auditorium.