Jeffrey D. Wagner
WESTPORT — The state Attorney General has rejected two bylaw amendments approved in October that prohibited the legal sale of non-medical marijuana within town borders.
The ruling, according to Planning Board Chairman James Whitin, was expected. He mentioned that it would not alter articles that will appear at the annual Town Meeting later in the year that will seek to prohibit the sale of non-medical marijuana. Those articles, unlike the ones rejected by the Attorney General Maura Healey, represent zoning changes.
The Oct. 3 special Town Meeting votes on two articles sought to initiate a ban, after voters at a February Town Meeting voted to lift a previous ban on the sale of non-medical marijuana. The February votes allowed approved medical marijuana establishments to branch out and sell non-medical products. Right now, there is only one approved facility — Coastal Healing on State Road. That facility’s applicant initiated the February petition article vote and has expressed interest in also selling recreational pot.
Attorney General Maura Healey, in her letter dated on April 30, said the October votes sought to overtake previous zoning amendments and did not have the legal authority to do so.
“At its October 3, 2020 Special Town Meeting the Town adopted two general by-law amendments: one deleting existing by-law text that authorizes a medical marijuana establishment to convert to a recreational marijuana establishment (Article 3); and the other prohibiting all types of non-medical marijuana establishments (Article 4),” the AG wrote in her letter.
“Because the town has previously regulated marijuana through zoning by-laws, the town may not now adopt a general by-law that is more restrictive than the previously adopted zoning by-law.”
In her letter, Healey mentioned the town’s history with marijuana votes. She highlighted votes at Town Meetings prior to October 3 that recodified zoning bylaws, including a consolidation of the bylaws pertaining to medical and non-medical marijuana.
“Articles 3 and 4 (of that October meeting) are an invalid attempt to restrict marijuana uses through a general by-law, where the town had previously regulated such uses through zoning,” Healey wrote.
Brian Corey, the attorney for Coastal Healing, said he also expected Healey’s ruling. Corey said that prior to the October meeting, he met with the citizen petitioners that sought the prohibition. Corey said he also warned town officials and petitioners before and after the meeting that state authorities would likely reject the amendments.
“My client and I met with the individuals behind the campaign. At that time they indicated that they were not against Coastal Healing moving forward and would consider adopting language in the amendment that we proposed,” Corey said.
“This amendment language would have preserved Coastal Healings’ rights and provided a moratorium on future marijuana projects thus meeting the group’s stated goal. Upon presentation of the language to the group a few days later they rejected it and decided not to work together, stating that they had the votes for a total prohibition.”
R. Michael Sullivan, a former selectman and proponent of a prohibition on non-medical marijuana, says Coastal Healing has not listened to the will of voters.
“It is unfortunate that what the Town has expressed, a half dozen times by majority votes, has been willfully and cleverly ignored by Coastal Healing, its representatives and supporters,” he said. “We are hopeful that June 5th’s Annual Town Meeting will give the voters a chance to settle this issue, perhaps not for good but at least for the immediate future. With the assistance of the Town’s Planning Board, these questions will have the precise and proper parliamentary language necessary to satisfy the Attorney General’s concerns regarding Bylaws and Zoning Bylaws.”
There will be three marijuana zoning articles presented at the annual Town Meeting later this year.
Whitin said all are zoning articles and all require a two-thirds majority vote.
One article will uphold any sale of non medical marijuana but zone such business uses to the Science and Technology District and the Adult Entertainment Overlay District. These zones are located in the north section of town along State Road. Building size would be restricted to a height of 40 feet and there would be a 500-foot required setback from residential property lines.
Another article will seek through zoning to prohibit the sale of non-medical marijuana. Another one will also look to prohibit it but allow an exemption for applicants who garnered special permit approval for non-medical marijuana before a May 4 deadline. Such an exemption would apply to Coastal Healing.
The Planning Board, by majority vote, has endorsed the first of these three articles, which does not prohibit non-medical marijuana.
The Planning Board earlier this year agreed to place the other two articles on the warrant to let the public decide on the matter.