The resolution targeted “Compassion Centers, Vaping/Hookah lounges, new marijuana sales, growth, and/or distribution facilities, and like operations/activities.”
“Now that the state allows marijuana compassion centers, there was a concern that we should take a look at what we can do, what we would want to do within the context of state law, as to local zoning,” said Town Council President Michael Isaacs. He argued it would allow the council “to stay ahead of the curve and take an opportunity to look at what, if anything, we need.”
Isaacs said the moratorium was not aimed at medical marijuana cardholders and growers.
“This is simply a way to avoid something coming into town that we may or may not want. At least this gives us some breathing room,” said Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin, adding, “We’re not looking to prohibit somebody who is otherwise legally using or growing marijuana. This is aimed more really at a commercial enterprise.”
But Councilman Mark Schwager said he didn’t know what was meant by “commercial enterprise,” noting that unregulated marijuana distribution is already illegal.
“It’s essentially saying we’re going to pass a moratorium on illegal behavior,” he said.
Councilman Bill Stone said he wasn’t necessarily against doing something, but he also questioned the resolution’s legal authority.
“I think what we don’t want is somebody to open a compassion center across from Our Lady of Mercy Church,” responded Solicitor Clarkin.
Stone, who was a member of the Planning Board before being elected to the Town Council in November, recalled last year’s moratorium on wind turbines but said he thought this issue was different.
“I don’t think anybody’s coming to us for a license to grow marijuana in a warehouse or anywhere else,” said Stone. “So there’s nothing for us to put a moratorium on. We can’t for six months create a law that says you can’t grow marijuana. We don’t have the authority to do that, do we?”
“I do think this would at least give somebody pause,” replied Clarkin.
Stone responded: “I’m not sure I’m comfortable creating a statute on its face looks like it prohibits something that we don’t have the authority to prohibit.”
Schwager noted the state has only permitted three compassion centers (in Providence, Warwick and Portsmouth), with no expansion in sight.
In a story Monday on RI Future, RI ACLU director Steve Brown said he didn’t think towns had the authority to regulate compassion centers:
State law establishes a very detailed scheme for the medical marijuana program and compassion centers. I do not believe municipalities have the authority to essentially halt the implementation of the law at their borders. It completely undermines state policy as reflected in the Medical Marijuana Act.
One of the criteria to be used by the Department [of Health] is to consider is ‘the interests of the city or town where the dispensary would be located.’ Other than providing that input, a municipality should not be able to then undermine the detailed regulatory analysis the Department has undertaken, in accordance with the law, in making its decision as to whom – and where – to grant a compassion center license.
At the meeting Monday night, Schwager also questioned the need for additional zoning for places like hookah lounges.
“Wouldn’t they fall into the standard health and safety concerns of any business has to have – the number of parking spaces, access, fire? … Any business would have to meet those,” said Schwager.
“That was the point, to look at the zoning ordinances, to see if, in fact, they covered that,” said Isaacs.
“I think it would be helpful among ourselves to decide what it is we want to focus on,” said Schwager. “Is there a specific concern that councilors have – is it compassion centers or e-cigarettes and vaping lounges and hookah bars?”
Schwager also reminded councilors that the town already has approved licenses for three cigar bars in town.
“As far as vaping and hookah lounges are concerned, I think we need to decide where you want them because I don’t think you can prohibit them,” said Clarkin. “I think if we’re going to allow cigar bars you’re going to have hookah lounges. I don’t know if there’s a big difference.”
But Clarkin said it would be up to the council to decide where such establishments could go.
Based on the feedback, Isaacs said he would direct the Planning Department and Planning Board to write a zoning ordinance to handle marijuana-related businesses, but also to go back to the drawing board on a moratorium before the next regular meeting, “to see what, if anything, we might want to propose.”
Here’s the moratorium proposed Monday night; there was no vote:
Resolution of the Town Council Relative to a Moratorium on Marijuana Growing and Dispensing and Related Activities
WHEREAS, the Town of East Greenwich is empowered by the Rhode Island Zoning Enabling Act (RIGL’s 45-24-30) to regulate and control land use and to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents; and
WHEREAS, the impacts on said health, safety and welfare of residents by the establishment of facilities cultivating, dispensing, selling and otherwise providing marijuana to medical patients is not yet well understood; and
WHEREAS, the Town recognizes the purpose of medical marijuana growing centers and dispensaries is to help ensure that seriously ill residents can obtain and use the plant for medical purposes where that medical use has been deemed appropriate by a physician in accordance with Rhode Island General Law 21-28.6; and
WHEREAS, qualified patients and their designated caregivers who obtain or cultivate marijuana solely for the qualified patient’s medical treatment should not be subject to arrest or prosecution and their privacy should be protected per State and Federal State and Federal law; and
WHEREAS, residents and businesses should be protected from the adverse impacts of unregulated medical marijuana distribution, storage and use practices, especially as pertains to proper permitting and inspection protocols. Medical marijuana growing and dispensing operations should not create conditions for crime, property damage, or other endangerment; and
WHEREAS, given East Greenwich’s modest overall land area, the integration of marijuana related facilities into the Town’s existing pattern of predominantly residential land use with broad access to public spaces like parks, playgrounds, and other community facilities where our youth congregate, would seem to emphasize the need for suitable siting guidelines, zoning regulations, and land development standards; and
WHEREAS, the Town of East Greenwich currently does not have regulations adequately addressing Compassion Centers and related marijuana facilities and the Town acknowledges this deficiency in its system of land use regulations and now desires to address the issue in a careful manner, on a comprehensive, Town-wide basis, rather than on an ad hoc basis.
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/Hookah lounges, new marijuana sales, growth, and/or distribution facilities, and like operations/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.
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