Deerfield proposes zoning rules for medical marijuana operations
DEERFIELD — The Planning Board has proposed new zoning rules that would allow medical marijuana treatment centers in industrial and planned industrial zoned areas by special permit.
Residents will be asked to weigh in on the proposal at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Town Hall.
With the proposed rules, Deerfield may become the first town to adopt zoning regulations related to medical marijuana operations.
Deerfield is one of the few towns that has not approved a temporary moratorium. A total of 115 communities have adopted moratoriums across the state while they update their local regulations to take into account medical marijuana production and sales.
Dispensaries and marijuana growing would be allowed in industrial zones. The East Deerfield rail yard, Pelican Products on North Main Street and the Channing Bete Co. property off Routes 5 and 10 are in industrial zones, while a planned industrial zone encompasses the Deerfield Industrial Park off Route 116.
Dispensaries would not be allowed in residential agricultural, central village residential, small business, commercial or an expedited permitting district.
Planning Board Chairman John Waite said the board may add one more change, which would require the board to hold an additional public hearing since the proposal was not in the first hearing’s public notice. The change would be to allow cultivation in residential agricultural zones with a setback of 25 feet.
The proposed changes add a stipulation that no medical marijuana facility should be within 500 feet of a school, day-care center or any other place where children congregate.
The proposed revisions would go before the town for final approval at a special Town Meeting on Oct. 28.
The state Department of Public Health is reviewing 158 applicants seeking to gain one of the 35 licenses to open a registered medical marijuana dispensary. Five applicants are vying for a Franklin County license. Each of the state’s 13 counties is required to have at least one licensed dispensary and no more than five.
So far, longtime Whately potato farmer James Pasiecnik has made public his plan to open a dispensary in either the Deerfield or Whately industrial park if he is granted a license and receives support from the Select Board.
The Deerfield Select Board has not said whether it would support Pasiecnik’s venture.
Instead, the board said recently that it needed more information from the state Department of Public Health before it considered a proposal.
The board has contacted the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards to get guidance on the impacts a dispensary could have on cities and towns.
Under the nonprofit name JM Farm’s Patient Group, Pasiecnik proposes a 35,000-square-foot cultivation center at 207 River Road by his farm. He has not disclosed exactly where he would open a dispensary, but he said he is interested in lots available in the adjacent Whately and Deerfield industrial parks off Route 116. Pasiecnik’s partners are Joshua Sodaitis of Somerville and Nick Spagnola of Revere.
Part of the application process is demonstrating community support.
With eyes on the two industrial parks, Pasiecnik and his partners began courting the Select Boards in both Whately and Deerfield last week, appearing at meetings flanked by their Boston lawyers from Vicente Sederberg LLC, and medical marijuana patients.
Sodaitis made the same pitch to the Deerfield town leaders as he did to the Whately board a night before, only substituting the names of the towns.
The Whately board gave its support, but the Deerfield board held off.
Questions the Deerfield leaders have stem from an information session on medical marijuana hosted by the state earlier this month.
Select Board member Carolyn Shores Ness and Health Agent Richard Calisewski attended the meeting.
“It was clear (the Department of Public Health has not) considered local issues,” Ness said.
Her questions include what kind of community support does the state require, what kind of training will the state require for dispensary employees and how will the nonprofits be held accountable for the promises they make to cities and towns.
Ness also is concerned about a lack of communication with local police departments and among state agencies, specifically the departments of public health and revenue.
Another concern for Ness is the possibility of a nontaxable nonprofit facility opening in the industrial park — 75 acres intended to be developed to expand the tax base.
“There’s unending questions from the local level (the state) wasn’t answering,” Ness said. “I’ve come away from the meeting absolutely convinced this will be a train wreck for us locally.”