Small City Braces for Marijuana Dispensaries with New Zoning Restrictions

Burlington, Massachusetts is considering a zoning bylaw to determine the location of “Registered Marijuana Dispensaries” before a state deadline for creating land use controls for dispensaries. The legal distinctions in zoning for RMDs are tricky.
March 27, 2014, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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The Planning Board in Burlington, Massachusetts recently reviewed proposed zoning bylaws that would determine where Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMDs) could potentially locate in the city, according to the reporting of Mark Biagiotti.

The town’s government will have to move fast in approving the proposed zoning changes. “[The] need to create a compliant zoning bylaw for RMDs in Burlington is getting urgent because the town filed for a moratorium with the Attorney General’s Office to allow the town to better understand this new RMD process and craft a local bylaw that will protect patients’ rights without increasing risks to public safety.” The moratorium expires June 30. If the town is still without zoning restrictions at that point, RMDs would be largely unfettered in where they could locate around town.

Under state law, the process by which an RMD could come to Burlington is a bit like winning (or losing, depending on your politics on the matter) the lottery. “In January, the Department of Public Health (DPH) allocated 4 of its 5 medical marijuana dispensary licenses in Middlesex County. Burlington was not selected but that doesn’t mean they won’t, as one allocated license remains and the DPH may add more dispensary licenses in the coming years,” according to Biagiotti. By preparing the new zoning restrictions, Burlington is taking the precaution of having more control over the siting of potential RMDs than those laid out by state law. For instance, the proposed zoning bylaws add an additional restriction for RMDs: that they would not locate within 500 feet of a place of worship.

But Burlington must be cautious not to add too many limitations: “the key of the zoning maps where RMDs can and cannot be located in the proposed bylaws in Burlington is whether or not the town is sufficiently complying with state law and providing enough of an opportunity for an RMD to locate.” Too many limitations, according to the state Attorney General’s office, and any legal challenges to RMDs are not likely to stand.

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Published on Monday, March 24, 2014 in Daily Times Chronicle
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