On the agenda for the Town Council meeting Monday night is a six-month moratorium on the sale of medical marijuana and vaping and hookah lounges. The council refused to vote on a similar but more expansive moratorium at its last regular meeting, Feb. 23.
“We felt some of the language was too broad and we wanted to get a better understanding of state law,” said Council President Michael Isaacs Sunday. (The changes are outlined at the bottom of this story.)
The goal of a moratorium, he said, was to give the town time to look at the legal and zoning issues involved before coming up with an ordinance.
“We want to put the regulatory structure in place prior rather than after establishments have opened,” said Isaacs. “The point here is to give us breathing room while this goes to the Planning Board. They can explore the issues and then make recommendations to the council.”
Isaacs said the moratorium was written by Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin with help from Town Planner Lisa Bourbonnais and the council would probably make changes at Monday’s meeting. He said he anticipated a two-pronged discussion – on legal issues (with Clarkin) and policy issues (among councilors).
For his part, Isaacs said, he wanted to discuss whether the language “vaping/hookah lounges” was too broad.
There is a vaping lounge in Providence where people with medical marijuana cards can bring their marijuana to “vape.”
Hookah bars, alternatively, are places where water pipes can be used to smoke tobacco. There are several hookah bars in Rhode Island.
East Greenwich has no hookah bars and none are proposed. However, the town is soon to have two cigar bars – Regency Cigars, at 752 Main St., has expanded to add a bar where liquor will be sold along with light snacks. The new Churchill Cigar Bar, at 564 Main St., under construction, will offer food and liquor in addition to cigars. (Cigar bars are allowed under the state smoking ordinance as long as more than 50 percent of their sales come from tobacco products.)
The moratorium would also prohibit “compassion centers” – places to buy medical marijuana –during that 6-month period. Currently, the state allows three compassion centers, in Providence, Portsmouth and Warwick. No additional centers are planned. It’s unclear if East Greenwich could actually prohibit one outright if the state sanctioned one here.
Isaacs said the moratorium was time-limited to give the Planning Board time “to explore this more fully” and that whatever the town came up with would have to follow state law.
“It’s not make an opinion on or final judgment on anything other than the need to study this,” said Isaacs of the moratorium. The council meets at Town Hall Monday at 7 p.m. You can find the agenda here.
The new moratorium resolution reads:
Now therefore be it resolved, that the Town Council of the Town of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, finds it is critical to good order and public safety to implement the provisions of relevant State law such that local distribution of medical marijuana can be effectively regulated and licensed, and so it does hereby enact a six-month moratorium on the opening of compassion centers, vaping and hookah lounges, and similar or related activities, pending further study and the diligent crafting of land use regulations pertaining to such projects; provided that this moratorium shall not be interpreted to apply to or interfere with qualified patients and their designated caregivers who, pursuant to state law, obtain or cultivate marijuana solely for the qualified patient’s medical treatment.
It omits the words: “new marijuana sales, growth, and/or distribution facilities”
In addition, one of the “whereas” clauses drops the phrase: “Medical marijuana growing and dispensing operations should not create conditions for crime, property damage, or other endangerment;”