Communities across the state are grappling with how to handle the newly enacted recreational marijuana law that allows retail pot shops to open and homeowners to grow marijuana plants.
But in Westford, selectmen are taking advantage of a newly enacted law that allows them to extend a moratorium on the sale of the drug for an extra six months.
Article 27 on the annual Town Meeting warrant was withdrawn by selectmen on Jan. 24 at the recommendation of Chris Kluchman, director of land use management, as well as the town manager, police chief, town planner town clerk, and health director. The group recommended adding it to the special Town Meeting warrant in the fall.
The article sought approval for a moratorium on marijuana establishments through June 30, 2018. But Kluchman told selectmen that state legislators, on Dec. 30, extended the moratorium by six months, meaning communities will have a longer period to determine how to handle the matter.
“That extension allows for different considerations,” she said.
Kluchman offered three options.
The first would be to maintain the moratorium until the original date in 2018.
“The second option would be to wait until special Town Meeting and, in fact, that is the recommendation of your staff…,” she said. “The reason for that is because the Legislature has signaled they’re going to look at changing the law that was enacted by the ballot measure back in November and we don’t know what those changes are going to be.”
Kluchman said a moratorium could be put into place in October and would carry the town through an annual Town Meeting cycle and election cycle, if needed.
The third would be to create a zoning bylaw to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana in Westford. The measure would require annual Town Meeting approval and a May ballot box question. That option would give town officials a brief preparatory period, Kluchman noted, as Town Meeting takes place on Oct. 25.
“I would certainly go with the staff’s recommendation and remove this from the warrant and bring it back at the special Town Meeting,” said Selectman Chairman Andrea Peraner-Sweet.
Kluchman noted that the moratorium and the zoning bylaw does not address growing marijuana inside residences, which is allowed by the state law. Kluchman noted the matter falls under the purview of the town’s Police Department.
“The zoning bylaw does not address that at this point,” Kluchman said. “But I don’t know that a zoning bylaw could address that. That’s something that the police would be dealing with…”