FROM THE TOWN ADMINISTRATOR’S DESK
By Gregory T Federspiel
One of the main topics for the Annual Town Meeting scheduled for April 2 at the Memorial School Gymnasium is whether non-medical marijuana establishments should be allowed in town, and if so, where. Based on the results of a state-wide referendum, new state law allows those over 21 to consume marijuana and allows various marijuana businesses to operate in the state. Manchester voters approved the referendum by a vote of 51% to 49%.
Currently, our voter approved zoning regulations allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the Limited Commercial District, an area of town north of Route 128. Voters also approved a temporary moratorium on all other marijuana establishments last fall. The moratorium is in effect only through the rest of this year unless new regulations are adopted. While communities cannot restrict personal consumption of marijuana, the new state law allows communities to ban or restrict marijuana businesses within their borders.
Three separate articles dealing with non-medical marijuana establishments will be presented and debated at the Annual Town Meeting – 1) a proposed ban through zoning; 2) a proposed ban through a general bylaw; and 3) a proposed restriction of marijuana businesses to only the LCD through zoning. The first one is a citizen’s petition article that seeks to ban all non-medical marijuana establishments from operating in Manchester. The proposed ban would be codified in our zoning regulations as a new section specifically prohibiting such establishments anywhere in town. As with any zoning proposal, it takes a two thirds majority to approve the new regulation. And because voters approved the original state-wide referendum legalizing non-medical marijuana establishments, a majority vote by ballot at the Town’s election in May is required before the ban would be officially approved.
The second article seeks voter approval of a new General Town Bylaw that would also ban non-medical marijuana establishments anywhere in Town. A new general bylaw would serve as an additional measure reinforcing the zoning bylaw if it passes but might be sufficient as a stand- alone prohibition as well. The Attorney General must approve any bylaw a town adopts. While general bylaw bans have been approved in other communities by the AG’s Office, the AG recommends that communities also adopt zoning measures. A general bylaw needs a simple majority vote to be approved. And again, a majority vote by ballot is also needed before the general bylaw would be deemed approved by the Town.
As an alternative to a ban, the third article, if approved, would restrict all non-medical marijuana establishments to the Limited Commercial District. The proposal here is to amend the medical marijuana zoning regulation by expanding it to include all types of marijuana establishments. The same review process and restrictions that voters approved for medical marijuana businesses would apply to non-medical establishments. This proposal, being a zoning regulation, also needs a two thirds majority vote to be approved. However, it does not need approval by a ballot vote as it is not proposing to ban any of the allowed new marijuana establishments permitted by the new state law.
All three articles are being presented to voters to allow discussion on a full range of options. Voting no on all three is a vote for the least restrictive approach that would mean non-medical marijuana businesses could seek a permit in our various commercial districts. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a yes vote on the ban proposals would prohibit such uses in town. A no vote on the ban proposals but a yes vote on the option of restricting marijuana establishments to the LCD is a middle of the road result that allows non-medical marijuana establishments to seek a special permit to locate on land to the north of Route 128.
Fortunately we have a skilled moderator who will help us keep these various options clear during the upcoming Town Meeting debate.