North Adams, Massachusetts is working to formalize its marijuana ordinances by the end of the month.
State licensing for marijuana businesses begins April 1st in Massachusetts, leaving communities around the commonwealth with less than three weeks to answer some big questions on the newly legalized substance. North Adams is no exception. The city council has a draft of its legal marijuana ordinance, which, having emerged from hearings and debate, will now be subject to public readings before a vote on adoption March 27th.
“The community has given us feedback on this. For the most part, we’ve heard positive feedback. A lot of the voices that have been in the room have been in favor of moving forward as we would expect because we were a community that had a little over 60 percent approval of legalization when it was on the ballot," said City Councilor Benjamin Lamb, who chairs the public safetey committee.
"But at the same time there is a little bit of discourse there and folks that have provided some really useful critical feedback that has informed a lot of the decision-making as far as the retail cannabis working group, specifically, because there folks on there that are both pro and others that are more on the conservative side in terms of how do we frame this out to protect our youth and other members of our community in the process,” said Lamb.
“One of the ones that there was some interesting back and forth on is how people would — or how the boards would — consider places of worship, and what level of set back we would have from that, because in a densely concentrated downtown and in a community like North Adams — which, you know, one of our monikers is the steeple city, you’re not too far from a place of worship in that downtown corridor,” said Mayor Tom Bernard.
“Siting dispensaries and stores close to places where youth frequent is something that we would discourage based on prevention science," said Wendy Penner, Director of Prevention and Wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. "So, at public meetings, I’ve taken the stand of encouraging zoning outside of our main street and downtown area, and more in the outlying commercial areas like the Route 2 and Route 8 corridors.”
The Coalition is funded by the state Department of Public Health.
“We know from our student health surveys that youth have been increasing their marijuana use, especially younger youth, here in northern Berkshire County. We see that about 11 percent of 8th graders report that they’ve used marijuana in the last 30 days, and that’s a number about twice the national level. So we just encourage all the communities in northern Berkshire when they think about zoning for any establishments where substances are sold to keep the impact of those substances on youth in mind,” said Penner.
The zoning, planning, and licensing boards have informed the city council. Public hearings have been held. Now, a resolution is in sight.
“That ordinance will now go through the council for two readings at the March 13th and 27th meetings, and if the council is so inclined, they have the opportunity after that second reading on the 27th to vote to approve or — I suppose — to reject the ordinance, which would, if they approve it, line us up for the start of the state licensing on April 1st," said Mayor Bernard.