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June 4, 2014

Essex Town Meeting approves sweeping med pot site limits

ESSEX — Regulations aimed at restricting where a medical marijuana cultivation site or dispensary can be placed in town gained the approval of a Special Town Meeting Tuesday night.

But whether or not they will still stand after the Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office reviews them is something that was debated back and forth by several residents.

A total of 159 residents voted in favor of the bylaw amendment while 37 voted against, easily clearing the two-thirds majority needed to change the law following about an hour of debate in the Essex Elementary School gym.

The regulations, under the special permits section of the town bylaw, limit those who want to open a medical pot growing site or dispensary to 2,500 feet away from a school, pre-school, athletic field, day care, or playground and 1,500 feet away from a residence.

A citizens’ committee devised the changes and gathered the required 200 signatures to force the Special Town Meeting. The meeting was held less than 48 hours after a Newton-based nor-for-profit company had withdrawn its application to place a cultivation facility on a site off Western Avenue.

Westley Burnham, vice chairman of the town Planning Board, was one of the first to speak at the meeting and reiterated that the elected body unanimously opposed recommending these changes, noting that board members could not determine if the regulations totally exclude one of these facilities from coming to town.

“Current setbacks do not provide any currently usable property or accessible property that we are aware of,” Burnham told the around 200 people present. He added that the board did not oppose the changes for personal reasons or feelings.

Others felt similarly, including resident Bruce Fortier, who referred to a map created by committee members that indicates areas available for a medical pot growing facility or dispensary.

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