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Massachusetts Municipalities Eye Moratoriums On Pot Stores

City Hall in Springfield, Ma

   Adults in Massachusetts can legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and even grow up to a dozen plants at home.  But, it may be a while before people can go to a store in their neighborhood to purchase pot products.

   Officials in several municipalities in western Massachusetts including Agawam, Chicopee, West Springfield, and Springfield are proposing to put local moratoriums in place on the sale of recreational marijuana.

   Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno first called for a delay in allowing retail pot shops to open shortly after Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana on the November 8th election ballot.

   " I think we have to be very structured and defined in this issue and I am looking for maybe a time-limited moratorium," said Sarno.

   A proposal before the city council would put a moratorium on the sale of marijuana for up to a year in the state’s third-largest city.  Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos said it will allow for adequate time to write local regulations.

    " I agree with the moratorium," said Ramos.  " I think we have to be cautious about how we proceed."

   The proposed moratorium received first-step approval on a voice vote by the council on January 9th.  A public hearing is scheduled for tonight at City Hall ahead of a possible final vote by the council on Feb. 6th.

  The Springfield Planning Board has endorsed the moratorium. In a report to the council, city planners point out that moratoriums have been used in the past to allow time to draft regulations governing cell phone towers, digital billboards, and medical marijuana.

  " We want to be sure they resolve all their issues on the state level before we proceed locally," said Ramos.

  The state legislature has delayed several deadlines in the voter-approved law that will likely push back the start of retail sales to the middle of 2018.   State Senator James Welch of West Springfield said the will of the voters will be respected but legislators need to pay attention to the details of implementing the law.

  " There are things we need to adjust to make sure the program is safe from a public safety and a public health standpoint," said Welch.

  A state Cannabis Control Commission will write and enforce regulations controlling the retail sale of marijuana. The voter-approved law allows municipalities to use existing zoning laws to determine where marijuana stores can open and to regulate hours of operation and signage.

" There will be local control," assured Welch. " Each community will be able to make a decision based on what they feel is right for their community."

  Local government officials could gain even more power over pot shops under a package of bills filed by State Senator Jason Lewis.  The Winchester Democrat strongly opposed the marijuana legalization referendum.

  He would allow municipal officials to reduce the number of marijuana stores authorized in a city or town, which is currently set at 20 percent of the local retail liqour licenses.  They could also ban marijuana businesses, such as cultivation facilities, without the OK of local voters.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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