Wareham voters approve pot shop regulations at Special Town Meeting

Mar 12, 2018

Special Town Meeting voters on Monday unanimously approved new rules that placed restrictions on recreational pot shops, capping the number of stores to three and limiting them to opening in a few areas of Wareham.

Voters heeded the advice of Selectmen, the Planning Board and the Finance Committee in passing the rules. All three boards unanimously recommended adopting the new rules. Without the regulations, Selectmen Chair Peter Teitelbaum warned that an unlimited number of stores could open almost anywhere in town after April 1.

“I cannot emphasize enough: a no vote on this article and failure to pass would mean that the town has zero control over the number of retail marijuana establishments and where they can be located,” said Teitelbaum. “We’re not here in opposition of marijuana or in support of marijuana, but to establish a framework.”

April 1 marks the first day the state’s Cannabis Control Commission must start accepting applications from potential marijuana retailers, cultivators and product manufacturers. At Town Meeting last year, voters approved a moratorium on retail marijuana shops to allow officials time to draft rules governing sales. That moratorium expires June 30.

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

Wareham’s rules limit pot shops to opening in three zoning districts: the institutional, industrial and strip commercial in the area east of Glen Charlie Road, Depot Street and Great Neck Road. The industrial district is located near the intersection of Routes 495 and 195. The strip commercial district is located near Robertson’s Auto Salvage on Route 25 and extends to the Bourne town line. The institutional district is located near Tobey Hospital and includes High Street, Wareham High and Middle Schools and Town Hall.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Massachusetts since 2012 and has separate regulations from recreational marijuana. Currently, one company, Compassionate Care, has a license for a medical marijuana facility, but hasn’t opened yet. That building is located in the institutional zone, near Tobey Hospital. Under state law, medical facilities will receive preference for obtaining recreational licenses. Selectmen noted that Compassionate Care plans to start medical marijuana sales in April.

At Special Town Meeting, which featured roughly 70 voters, resident Jim Munise wanted the rules changed to prohibit recreational stores from opening in the institutional district, and he asked voters to amend the regulations.

“Totally different foot traffic will come in for medical marijuana than the foot traffic for a retail place, and I don’t believe it belongs in that district,” said Munise, noting it’s near schools and homes. “I’m not against it, I just don’t think a retail commercial establishment belongs there.”

Officials said because the medical facility is already licensed, and marijuana will be sold there regardless, it didn’t make sense to limit the recreational sales. In response to questions about a second shop – not Compassionate Care's facility – opening in the institutional district, Director of Planning & Community Development Ken Buckland said setbacks written into the regulations will prohibit other shops. Under the rules, pot shops may not open within 1,500 feet of each other or within 500 feet of a school or other place where children normally gather.

“The town bylaws and state regulations would preclude most properties from being available for that second license,” said Buckland.

One resident, Don Jepson, expressed concern on Selectmen profiting off of drug sales. He recommended the funds from a 3 percent sales tax, approved at the start of the meeting, be given to nonprofits and agencies that combat drug addiction.

“If the town is going to profit on the sale of this, the money should be spent in a fashion so the Selectmen are not in the drug business,” said Jepson. “There’s a lot of deserving groups out there. The money that is going to be collected should go to them.”

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said the taxes collected will not be allocated for special use, but instead will go into a general purpose account.

Under state law, cities and towns may tax recreational sales up to 3 percent. Teitelbaum noted that on Cape Cod, Provincetown is the only town where recreational marijuana sales were approved. Wareham will be the last stop for anyone looking for marijuana before entering the Cape, said Teitelbaum. He said officials do not have an estimate for how much money recreational marijuana sales will generate for town.

“If marijuana is being sold here then this is the town’s chance to profit from the sale,” he said about the sales tax.