An ordinance aimed by the City Council toward addressing the state’s new medical marijuana law would, among other things, prevent marijuana-related businesses from operating within 1,500 feet of churches and schools, and regulate advertising of a potential dispensary or cultivation facility within the city.
The proposed ordinance has already received support from the city’s Planning Board and the council’s subcommittee on planning and development. Voters across Cape Ann and the rest of the state approved the use of medical marijuana and the development of distribution facilities in a ballot question last fall.
But while the voter initiative called for at least one and up to five dispensaries to be opened in each county, including Essex, the law and the state’s Department of Health, which is fielding applications for dispensaries and/or cultivation sites, has left siting of any such facilities up to cities and towns. And the Attorney General’s office has found that communities cannot block such facilities altogether — a step that was attempted and shot down earlier this year in Peabody.
“The voters in Gloucester and statewide passed it overwhelmingly,” said City Councilor Greg Verga, who chairs the Planning and Development Subcommittee. “I think this a good compromise because it controls everything pretty well.”
The council had initially sought to place a temporary zoning moratorium on marijuana treatment or cultivation centers in July, while members worked to develop a suitable ordinance to govern incoming marijuana businesses in the city.
With the passing of this ordinance, as set forth in the moratorium, the moratorium would expire. The full council will look to put the ordinance in place after a public hearing that was continued from Tuesday to Nov. 12.
Writing the ordinance has mostly been a job of implementing new wording into the city charter, with the intent to “address and mitigate the secondary effects of the presence of medical marijuana treatment centers and medical marijuana cultivation facilities and drug dispensing and cultivation oriented businesses.”
Along with more specific restrictions, potential marijuana facilities are blocked from being planted in any zoned residential districts. That means the businesses can seek locations within the Marine Industrial zone, the Village Business zone, the Civic Center zone, the Neighborhood Business zone and other business and industrial areas in the city.
“Basically we’re keeping it out of residential, and this is only an overview of where it may be allowable,” Verga said Wednesday. “Then, if someone comes along and says ‘I’d like to do one,’ there’s a whole application process.”
The ordinance would even prevent a dispensary from locating within 500 feet of the property line of any residentially zoned property. The larger 1,500 linear feet separation would apply to any school or child care facility or religious building, and also would require 1,500 feet between any marijuana facility and any other medical marijuana center, as well as from any bars, breweries, taverns, hotels or restaurants with liquor licenses.
Another proposed rule would prevent medical marijuana treatment and cultivation facilities from locating in “any area where large numbers of minors regularly congregate.”
Another provision aimed at shielding minors from the medical marijuana industry would ban misleading advertisements or advertisements designed to appeal to minors.
The local standard also prevents people convicted of certain crimes — including those related to drug distribution and bad business practices — from seeking permits to open a marijuana business here.
Along with seeking input from local law enforcement officials, like Police Chief Leonard Campanello, city board members researched ordinances recently created by other towns statewide, like Malden, Dennis and Freetown.
A public hearing for the ordinance, which was slated for Tuesday night, was continued to Nov. 12, as the police chief, whose input and advice the council values, according to Verga, was unavailable Tuesday evening.
“The chief law enforcement person in the city, if he can get behind it as written, it’s good enough for me,” Verga said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.