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By Sarah Champagne, Managing Editor
At the town council meeting of Sept. 10, Southbridge town council approved a zoning bylaw that regulates the conditions under which medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation centers could operate in town. The meeting also featured a presentation by Bob Patton and Chris Zawicki of Green Meadows Farm, an organic farm company which seeks to build a medical marijuana dispensary in Southbridge.
Patton and Zawicki presented information about their company and their tentative plans for development in Southbridge if approved. Green Meadows Farm is an organic farm which traces its roots back to Patton’s family of well-known military leaders. Most notably, Bob Patton is the son of Army Major George Patton IV and the grandson of General George Patton. Patton and Zawicki described the proposed medical marijuana dispensary, their expectations for a relationship with the town, and their belief in the medical benefits of the product sold at dispensaries.
“We would like to be a really, really responsible partner to the town of Southbridge,” Patton said. “And that is the key word here – partnership.”
Patton described some of those responsibilities as financial contributions to the town as agreed, partnerships with law enforcement and security practices beyond that which is required by the Commonwealth. Patton and Zawicki described a company culture in support of veterans, in particular.
Later in the meeting, council held the third and final reading of a zoning bylaw to regulate where medical marijuana dispensaries could operate in Southbridge and to establish the circumstances and expectations of such an operation. The bylaw is several pages long, and each reading has taken a significant amount of time to complete, with members of the council taking turns reading parts of it each time. At the meeting of Sept.10, the proposed bylaw was read in 21 minutes.
Some features of the bylaw include which zoning areas a medical dispensary could operate and the distance required between a dispensary and a place where children commonly congregate, such as a school, day care center, dance or martial arts school or public library. The bylaw prohibits drive-through service, on-site consumption of medical marijuana and regulates the exterior appearance of the dispensary as well.
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 General Law, Chapter 94G, section (a)(2)(i), 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. Accordingly, the Town of Southbridge created the bylaw prohibiting and limiting the establishment of recreational marijuana business in town earlier this year. However, that town bylaw did not address medical marijuana because the medical category is not subject to the same municipal restrictions as the recreational category.
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 can set up.
The zoning bylaw in Southbridge was approved unanimously amongst those present, with Monique Manna and Jorge Morales absent from the meeting. The bylaw required a two-thirds affirmative vote.