City Council Modifies Medical Marijuana Zoning Regulations

Cambridge City Councillors modified existing zoning ordinances regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, permitting the establishment of potentially “five or six” new dispensaries in the city, according to Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern.

In addition to the new ordinance, City Councillors Dennis J. Carlone and Jan Devereux proposed two amendments, both of which passed unanimously. Carlone’s amendment requires that the Ordinance Board revisit the amendment should new state laws be passed that affects existing marijuana legislation, and Devereux’s amendment increased the permitted distance between marijuana dispensaries from 1,500 to 1,800 feet.

The main motion to approve the new zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries—which passed in the City Councillors' 6-3 vote—stipulates that dispensaries must comply with local and state marijuana regulations, notably failing to mention existing federal laws around medical marijuana use.

In addition, the motion lays out the geographic bounds of the locations of these dispensaries. Dispensaries cannot be located within 500 feet of any place where children regularly congregate, including schools, daycares, and arcades. The new zoning rules permit for dispensaries in eight different zoning areas around Cambridge, like Porter Square, Harvard Square, Central Square, and Kendall Square.

Despite its passing, the motion was criticized by the city’s planning board, who wrote an official recommendation to the City Council airing concerns about the proposed ordinances.

The planning board cited “a great deal of uncertainty” regarding non-medical marijuana regulations, which could operations of medical marijuana dispensaries. Following a lengthy discussion, council members Craig A. Kelley, David P. Maher, and Timothy J. Toomey Jr. voted against the measure.

“This is not a big buffer. This is very, very small” Maher said, referencing the original 1500 foot buffer between different medical marijuana dispensaries.

Councillor Leland Cheung disagreed and claimed the regulations were reasonable.

“I just want to say 1500 feet is more than four football fields,” Cheung said. “I think 1500 makes sense.”

McGovern agreed with Cheung, saying he believed that medical marijuana should be allowed wherever there is a doctor’s office.

“It doesn’t take the control away from the city.” McGovern said. “It adds control, it adds predictability.”

Even though the City Council passed the new zoning regulations, McGovern said the medical marijuana dispensary ordinance does not allow for the establishment of recreational marijuana dispensaries.

“I think these are two separate issues.” McGovern said. “I think the regulations around recreational marijuana are going to be a long time in the works.”

Recreational marijuana was approved by a state-wide ballot initiative in November with about 54 percent of voters agreeing to legalize the drug.

Recreational marijuana dispensaries may open as early as July 2018.

—Staff Writer Nicholas W. Sundberg can be reached at nicholas.sundberg@thecrimson.com. Follow him on twitter @NickWSundberg

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