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Pittsfield Makes Way For Medical Marijuana

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Under the ballot measure approved by Massachusetts voters legalizing medical marijuana last year, up to 35 licenses for dispensaries could be opened across the state. The state Department of Public Health revealed its final regulations for the distribution of the drug in May, and Pittsfield has been one of many localities working to change zoning regulations to accommodate the arrival of the dispensaries.

Last month, Pittsfield’s Community Development Board gave unanimous approval to changes in the city’s zoning codes that, if certain requirements are met, would allow a dispensary to be opened if located at least 500 feet from any private or public school. The amendments were then sent to the City Council’s committee on Ordinances and Rules, which gave recommendations. From there, the zoning requirements were further amended.

City Planner CJ Hoss said that the amendments approved by the City Council this week would require that dispensaries be located at least 1,000 feet from schools and playgrounds. Hoss said the change was made to make the dispensary locations more in line with federal law, which still considers the sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes illegal.

Hoss said that Pittsfield also will attempt to limit the number of dispensaries located within city limits to three. Hoss said that if five dispensaries were permitted for Berkshire County, the limit would ensure that facilities would be more accessible countywide. He also compared the effects of the relative location of a facility to what’s been observed in other states.

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi said that he was pleased with the zoning amendments and the City Council’s unanimous approval. Bianchi considers the city prepared for the arrival of any facility, which he said is likely given that Pittsfield is the largest community in the Berkshires. Bianchi said that he’s been contacted numerous times by city residents advocating for the drug they say would be effective in treating debilitating illness. 

Under state law, the changes to Pittsfield’s zoning laws must be read twice before enactment. The first reading at the City Council meeting Tuesday will be followed by a second meeting on June 27th.

Erik Germaine, a spokesman for Manna Wellness, Inc., a company seeking licensure to distribute medical marijuana in Berkshire County, told WAMC that while the company does have “a couple places in mind,” it is still surveying the county to find the most suitable location to operate.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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