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Medical marijuana zoning rejected

Town Meeting votes not to add local rules

Framingham Town Meeting last week voted down a proposal that would have limited where medical marijuana facilities could be located, placed restrictions on the size of buildings housing the facilities, and prohibited “drive-through” dispensaries.

As a result of the vote, anyone wishing to open a medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation site in Framingham will be able to start their business if they receive a license from the state and adhere to existing state rules.

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The proposal failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed for passage, with 53 people voting for it, 44 against, and one abstaining.

Many, including Town Meeting member Dennis Paulsen, who is vice chairman of the Committee on Public Works, at the meeting Monday expressed concern that adding extra regulations on top of what the state had already approved would be unnecessarily burdensome for businesses.

“We don’t do this for restaurants and bars,” Paulsen said. “If this is truly a legitimate business with a legitimate use, we should treat it like any other business.”

The added restrictions had been proposed by the town’s Planning Board. The board had hoped to create new a type of zoning district in which medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation businesses would be allowed. The proposal also limited building size, prohibited the creation of “drive-through” dispensaries, reiterated the state’s 500-foot buffer zone around schools, and added a requirement that multiple medical marijuana facilities be at least 1,000 feet apart.

A second, related article proposed several potential locations for such zoning districts along Route 9 and in the Golden Triangle. But that article was not voted on after the first proposal was rejected.

‘We don’t do this for restaurants and bars. If this is truly a legitimate business with a legitimate use, we should treat it like any other business.’

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There are currently 181 applicants across the state competing for just 35 licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries, with 47 groups for five licenses in Middlesex County.

Framingham Town Manager Bob Halpin said the goal of the zoning bylaw was not to get “between a doctor and his patient” or to harm business, but to facilitate the inevitable growth of what is “expected to be a $300 million industry” in Massachusetts.

“There are going to be five dispensaries in Middlesex County. It’s a safe bet to say one of those will be somewhere in the MetroWest region, and likely that one will be in Framingham,” Halpin said, adding that the locations selected by the Planning Board along Route 9 and in the Framingham side of the Golden Triangle were logical locations for such a facility.

But Jim Pillsbury, a former candidate for state representative and longtime advocate for cannabis reform, gave an impassioned plea for Town Meeting to vote down a measure he saw as “mean-spirited” toward people with serious medical conditions.

“It is not in the spirit of the ballot question,” Pillsbury said. “What is it about sick people that you feel is a problem?”

Planning Board administrator Amanda Loomis said while dispensaries will likely still not be able to open in purely residential areas, the matter will require some clarification from state regulators.

“We were trying to put in protocols to give it more definition,” Loomis said.

After a referendum vote last November that legalizes the use of medical marijuana and the creation of a regulated dispensary system, many communities across the Commonwealth imposed a one-year moratorium on the opening of dispensaries, citing complex zoning considerations and concerns from community members.

Framingham, however, bucked regional trends by rejecting such a moratorium in May, several weeks after the state released its official medical marijuana regulations.

Now the town is poised to move forward as a potential site for a medical marijuana facility without additional local limitations.

For Doug Kinz, president of Comfort Air Systems Inc. and a Precinct 6 resident who spoke in opposition to the proposed restrictions, that is a positive sign.

“I think it allows the state-approved law to act like it was supposed to, instead of restricting business in the area,” Kinz said.

Dan Schneider can be reached at danieljoshuaschneider3@
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