Clemence “disappointed” by zoning by-law failure
By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
SOUTHBRIDGE — Plans to use zoning by-laws prohibit commercial dispensaries of recreational marijuana in this town have gone up in smoke.
The Town Council voted 4-3 on Monday night against a proposed amendment to zoning by-laws to prohibit commercial recreational marijuana establishments under all applicable classifications. The amended by-law states “all types of marijuana establishments,” including all marijuana cultivators, marijuana testing facilities, marijuana retailers, or any other type of licensed marijuana-related business, would have been prohibited in Southbridge. Monday night’s vote followed the third and final reading of the rejected by-law.
A two-thirds majority vote was necessary to enact the proposed zoning by-law, but the measure failed 4-3. Councilors Kristen Auclair, Jorge Morales, Rick Nash, and Gus Steeves opposed the motion while Councilors Denise Clemence, Marc DiPietro, and Monique Manna voiced support.
Mrs. Clemence said she was “really surprised” and “disappointed” that the zoning by-law was rejected at the last moment, asserting that officials who allowed the prior readings to advance only to oppose the measure in the end had squandered time and energy.
“I just find it’s kind of a waste of our time and our community’s time,” Mrs. Clemence said.
Prior to the vote, Town Manager Ron San Angelo called the proposed zoning by-law “an interesting issue,” while noting the failure amendment does not open the doors to commercial recreational marijuana establishments locally due to a previously supported set of by-laws. “Voting against this will have no impact on the overall by-law.”
Mr. San Angelo said the previously enacted by-law would have to be altered to allow commercial recreational marijuana establishments. The by-law would not have directly hinder the legal medical use of marijuana, or the ability for households to grow for personal use in accordance with state laws.
Opponents of the measure argued an economic opportunity would be passed over by prohibiting commercial recreational marijuana establishments, and some referenced conflicting popular votes by townspeople that initially supported recreational marijuana before a later vote rejected it.
“One vote with a larger number of Southbridge voters came out and voted yes,” Ms. Auclair said of the first town-wide vote, which supported recreational marijuana. “Then a much smaller pool came out and voted the opposite way.”
Mr. Steeves, the vice chairman of the panel, agreed.
“The people as a whole were not unanimous,” he said. “The people who voted no should be represented up here.”
Mr. Steeves added that recreational pot dispensaries “could actually benefit us,” while supporting prohibition would lead the town to “shoot ourselves in the foot.” He noted that surrounding communities may permit pot shops, leading to more “stoned” drivers on the roads. Mr. Steeves suggested he would prefer locals “take it home and smoke it.”
Some councilors said the most recent decision by voters ought to take precedence over the original decision, regardless of turnout.
“I’m not 100 percent on board with this decision that the voters have made, it’s certainly going to be a lack of opportunity for revenue this town could receive,” offered Mr. DiPietro. “The voters are the voters, they’re the boss, so as much as I disagree with this I have to go with the folks who put us in these seats.”
Added Ms. Manna: “The voters did speak at the polls and I’m going to support what they voted for or not for.”
She later added that recreational marijuana use is “not ever going to go away.”