SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 4, 2014

Town Meeting OKs medical pot zoning

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — Special Town Meeting last night approved a move to create six new liquor licenses while carving out two areas in industrial parks where a medical marijuana dispensary might go.

Town Meeting members made it through 14 articles with much of the discussion centered on the creation of additional liquor licenses and medical marijuana dispensaries zones. The Planning Board had recommended, and Town Meeting approved the Cherry Hill industrial park off Conant Street and the Danvers Industrial Park off Route 1 South for new medical marijuana overlay districts.

Officials said the reason for the zoning was voters statewide had approved the medical use of marijuana in November 2012, so it was best to find a place for these dispensaries. The town had put in place a one-year moratorium on them so it could write rules around where they could be located. The industrial parks provide good road access, have a range of available space and are isolated from neighborhoods.

“I am wondering if we should even consider this,” said former Selectman and Town Meeting member Mark Zuberek, who called Town Meeting to take no action on Article 7, saying: “The state, in its infinite wisdom, shoved this down our throats.”

Zuberek favored pharmacies, not new dispensaries, be allowed to distribute the drug. He said federal law prohibits the sale of marijuana, so that these businesses cannot transact business using credit cards or checks.

“Please consider the ramifications down the road and be careful what we get into,” Zuberek said.

“The voters in our state ... the voters in this room, I dare say, voted for medical marijuana,” said Selectman Dan Bennett, who said the state Attorney General would not allow Danvers to ban medical pot dispensaries outright.

“I voted against this when it was on the ballot,” said former Selectman and Town Meeting member Bill Nicholson, concerned that people would become “burn outs” on the drug. However, he said he did some research and found that marijuana sold in dispensaries was “pure marijuana.”

“It doesn’t have poison in it like the marijuana that is sold on the street. If this can help someone, I am for it,” Nicholson said.

Others like Town Meeting member Tenley Bevins, a nurse, spoke about being torn as marijuana is both harmful and helpful. Town Meeting member Mike Hagan, a Danvers police officer, wanted to know how much pot a dispensary might store, its security and crime statistics about them.

While not speaking for the police, Hagan said: “I know the Danvers Police Department is stretched to the max already for calls for services.”

Town Counsel David DeLuca ruled Hagan’s line of questioning beyond the scope of the article, with the answers best coming from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The motion passed by a two-thirds vote.

Zuberek’s motion for “no action” failed.

Town Meeting also approved a new regulation for those granted permission to grow medical marijuana due to a hardship to register both with the police and the Board of Health.

Selectmen Chairman Gardner Trask spoke out in favor of the town asking state lawmakers to approve six additional liquor licenses after Zuberek questioned a lack of a plan on how they should be used.

“Doesn’t this really dilute the value of the existing merchants who are already operating in town,” Zuberek said.

Trask said the licenses are being sought as an economic development tool, and that holders of them cannot transfer them for three years after getting them.

Selectman David Mills said he was moved to favor more licenses when a family that runs a Chinese restaurant applied for and was denied a license because there were none available. Meanwhile, large chain restaurants can pay the market rate for a liquor license. He called the expansion of the number of licenses “a simple matter of fairness and justice.”

The state Legislature would have to approve the town’s home rule petition.

The meeting was also scheduled to vote on an overlay zone for an industrial area of the Tapleyville neighborhood along Holten Street to create a mix of shops, restaurants and housing. Results of this vote on Articles 21 and 22 were not known as of press time last night.

There was some discussion on a bylaw clarifying who might live in so-called “extended family living areas” or in-law apartments. Among the definitions, legal guardians were allowed, but a move by Town Meeting member John Zavaglia to add “god parents” to the definition failed.

The business-like mid-winter meeting was meant to clean up some zoning articles, though a move to strike the animal husbandry zoning bylaw from the books in favor of having the Board of Health rule on the keeping of small animals like chickens, geese and rabbits garnered its fair share of squawking.

Town Meeting member Charles Dame wondered why it was being deleted. The present bylaw only allows the keeping of small animals in certain residential zones, but not in others. However, the town also has a “right-to-farm” bylaw which contradicts that. Town Meeting voted to table this article for a future meeting.

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Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.