The City Council of Newton voted on March 5 to pass a temporary hold on recreational marijuana establishments applying for licenses. The ban did, however, include an amendment that shields Garden Remedies, a current medical marijuana facility, from being included in the moratorium.
The moratorium passed with 20 in favor, and four abstentions. This vote came after a previous postponement due to the absence of five councillors at the Feb. 27 meeting. The amendment, which was voted on prior to the moratorium vote, was passed 16 to four, with four abstentions. The temporary ban was suggested so that the Zoning and Planning Committee would have time to complete a planning process to consider in what districts and under what conditions recreational marijuana establishments will be allowed to open.
The temporary hold is expected to last until December 2018, when it will be lifted and recreational marijuana establishments will be able to apply for licenses. Councilors said, however, that the Zoning and Planning Committee will work as quickly and efficiently as possible on establishing regulations, so an earlier opening date may be possible.
It was stated in the meeting that a Cannabis Commissioner and the Attorney General’s office gave conflicting reports about whether Garden Remedies would be automatically included in the moratorium. After this detail was explained to all of the present councillors, the floor was opened to discuss the pros, cons, and possibilities of the exemption.
Councillors in favor of the amendment argued that it could act as a sort of “guinea pig” for the Zoning and Planning Committee to learn from. They also pointed out that the projected revenue for one year of the business being open would be $450,000 to the City of Newton from marijuana sales tax as well as a 3 percent impact tax.
The Planning Department plans to release the regulation ordinance to the committee by the first week of September. Councillor Jacob D. Auchincloss expressed his doubt that there will be a sufficient amount of time between the July 1 start date for Garden Remedies to begin selling recreationally and the release of the report for the facility to serve as a legitimate and helpful test case for the committee, making its exemption seemingly worthless.
Others raised concerns that exempting one establishment could lead to complications down the road for procedures involving other establishments, and it might not necessarily serve to provide them with a comprehensive understanding of the regulations they should put in place.
Proponents of the exemption advocated for its implementation, saying that having a “soft-opening” could provide at least a look into the problems they may face. Councillor David A. Kalis argued that even if it couldn’t provide all of the answers for zoning regulations, it could allow them to better anticipate the problems they will run into down the road.
Councillor Brenda Noel similarly said that the exemption could help them figure out what they don’t know, since the type of establishments being opened will be new to the city and its residents. Councillor Joshua Krintzman added that the people of Newton have voted that they want to open these shops, and that this should be taken into consideration. Residents had previously expressed that they were unhappy with the delay, as they had voted to have the establishments legalized and felt that their votes had not been heard.
Councillor Greg Schwartz spoke briefly before the final vote on the moratorium to remind the council that they cannot limit the number of recreational marijuana establishments to any less than 20 percent of its off-site liquor licensed establishments, meaning that Newton could see upwards of seven or eight marijuana shops.
“We know that that these establishments are going to open and they’re going to open in Newton,” Krintzman said.
Residents of Newton voted “yes” to Question Four on Nov. 8, 2016, which legalized recreational marijuana use for adults ages 21 and over, with 54.7 percent in favor and 45.3 percent not in favor, according to Newton Patch. Approximately 90 other towns in Massachusetts have passed temporary moratoria on recreational establishments.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Newton Patch