Starting July 1st, the sale of marijuana will be legal at licensed stores in Massachusetts. But there won’t be any pot shops open then – or likely for many months after that date – in the largest city in western Massachusetts.
Just this week, proposed zoning regulations for marijuana businesses in the city of Springfield were made public at a sparsely-attended City Hall meeting – setting in motion a process that will determine how accessible legal pot will be for people who live in the region.
The Springfield suburbs have all banned marijuana businesses from operating within their borders.
A ban is not an option in Springfield because a majority of the city’s voters supported marijuana legalization in the 2016 statewide referendum. The City Council has put a temporarily moratorium in place. It is due to expire at the end of September, but could be extended by a council vote.
The proposed zoning for marijuana establishments in Springfield would allow stores in currently designated retail and commercial areas but would require a 500-foot buffer zone around any public or private K-12 school and any residence.
" It is going to significantly impact where these could be located," said Phil Dromey, the city’s Deputy Director of Planning, as he summarized the draft regulations produced by his office.
He said the requirement for the buffer zone around schools is mandated by state law, but the City Council could change or eliminate the distance that must be kept between a pot shop and a home or apartment building.
"I have heard from a number of neighorhoods that are concerned, but I am open to the larger discussion of where ( marijuana stores) ultimately are located," Dromey said.
To aid the City Council in its deliberations, Dromey said city planners will produce a color-coded map that will show precisely where retail pot shops would be allowed to operate in Springfield under the proposed zoning.
Under the voter-approved marijuana law, Springfield can license no fewer than 10 marijuana retailers, which is 20 percent of the number of liquor stores currently open in the city.
Michael Ortoll, CEO of HealingCalyx, a marijuana business, said the proposed buffer zone around residences in Springfield is too restrictive.
"It is virtually impossible with that 500 ( foot buffer zone)," said Ortoll. who is looking to open a marijuana cultivation, manufacturing, and retail sales facility in Springfield at a location he declined to disclose.
The proposed regulations for marijuana businesses to operate in Springfield will be reviewed initially by the City Council’s Economic Development Committee.
"Once it is done and handled the right way, I think the residents of Springfield are going to be happy," said City Councilor Adam Gomez, chairman of the commitee. "The (council) would rather put something out there that is done the right way the first time and we don't have to revisit it."
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is reviewing applications for state licenses for 51 marijuana businesses including 16 proposed retail locations.