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By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
SOUTHBRIDGE – At the town council meeting of Sept. 10, town council will hold the third reading of a zoning bylaw which would regulate where medical marijuana businesses are allowed to do business. At the third reading of any bylaw, the council then votes on whether or not to accept the proposed bylaw. Tonight’s meeting will also feature a presentation by Bob Patton and Chris Zawicki of Green Meadows Farm, a marijuana cultivation business that traces its roots back to Patton’s family of well-known military leaders. Most notably, Bob Patton is a descendent of Army Major George Patton IV and his father, Major George Patton.
The currently considered zoning bylaw was read first at the town council meeting August 13 and then again at the August 20 meeting. The lengthy bylaw breaks down definitions related to registered medical marijuana cultivation centers (RMMCCs) and registered medical marijuana dispensary centers (RMMDCs). The proposed bylaw would regulate where these businesses could set up operations in Southbridge in relation to zoning designated sections of town.
This bylaw addresses medical marijuana exclusively. Town bylaw passed earlier this year to prohibit the establishment of any type of recreational marijuana facility created with the purpose of cultivation, processing or retail activities.
Massachusetts approved the legal cultivation and sale of marijuana in a November 2016 ballot item, with regulation of the sale and use of marijuana, both medical and recreational. The law has slightly different treatments of medical versus recreational marijuana in parts of the wording of the law, in a way that is currently playing out in Southbridge, including tonight’s presentation by Bob Patton and Chris Zawicki of Green Meadows Farm and the third reading and vote on the currently proposed zoning bylaw.
Part of the legislation resulting from the November 2016 vote, Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 94G, section (a)(2)(a), allows towns in the commonwealth to create municipal level bylaws for the regulation of medical and recreational marijuana businesses, with slightly different levels of flexibility for either category. As such, the Town of Southbridge created a bylaw prohibiting and limiting the establishment of recreational marijuana business in town earlier this year. However, the town bylaw did not address medical marijuana because the medical category is not subject to the same municipal abilities to restrict activities as is seen with the recreational category. Essentially, economic activities related to recreational marijuana can be more regulated by towns than that for medical marijuana.
In regard to medical marijuana, municipalities can create zoning regulations, but cannot easily keep registered medical marijuana cultivation centers or registered medical marijuana dispensary centers away altogether. State law does provide a “buffer zone” between where a permitted medical marijuana business can operate, related to other activities in town. However, in the absence of a zoning bylaw created by the town, there is little restriction created for where a business related to medical marijuana can set up.
The proposed bylaw which will be read tonight would create specific zoning for medical marijuana business in Southbridge, as opposed to non-regulated location of medical marijuana businesses. The vote requires a two-thirds vote.
Patton’s presentation about Green Medows Farm will occur early in the meeting, after Town Manager’s announcements. The third reading of the proposed zoning bylaw is item twenty-six, with a vote at item twenty-seven. Town Council meetings are held at Town Hall in the McMahon Council Chambers. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.