2017-06-29 / Front Page

Moratorium on growing pot for six months

Town wants to draft local rules in case it’s legalized
BY TIM RIEL

With nothing on the books regulating marijuana cultivation in town, the councilors have adopted a six-month moratorium on commercialized pot to buy time for the planning commissioners to draft ordinances.

Council President Kristine Trocki assured the public this measure does not affect medical marijuana licenses, patients or growers. “I want to make that very clear,” she said.

According to Town Planner Lisa Bryer, the board recommended the freeze in lieu of a bill in the state legislature that essentially would legalize marijuana in Rhode Island. The council agreed with the planners at its June 19 meeting to ban cultivation while lawmakers quarrel regarding the decisive issue. The moratorium on applications for “cultivation, processing, distribution and sales” will be in effect until the 2018 session begins in Providence.

According to the language, the state’s so-called Medical Marijuana Act, which differs from the proposed bill on recreational marijuana, already establishes a framework for licensees, although the law requires cultivators to comply with local ordinances. Because marijuana is not considered a land use in the town’s zoning code, Bryer wants to be sure regulations are in place if the recreational law were adopted.

Although Bryer allows that unnamed uses are “assumed prohibited” by the town, she doesn’t want any legal ambiguity concerning the town’s regulations on agriculture, which is allowed in every district.

“It’s better to have it spelled out,” she said. Bryer doesn’t yet envision what a marijuana ordinance would look like, but she wants the town to keep control of its local land use. Another bill that was introduced this year, the Right to Farm Act, would override local zoning to allow farms to host carnivals, weddings and concerts on their land.

“Zoning has traditionally always been a local operation,” she said. “The state has never told you what to do with your land. But nowadays, the state is getting dangerously close to that.”

That’s the reason Bryer and the planning commissioners wanted to be proactive about the growing commercialization of marijuana.

“It is important to be thinking about these things so our ordinances reflect our goals and values,” Trocki said.

The recreational marijuana bill has been introduced each year since the drug became legal in two Western states. This version comes on the heels of a Massachusetts law legalizing weed approved by voters in November.

According to a report from Regulate Rhode Island, a coalition that advocates for regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol, the state would benefit from nearly $50 million annually if pot were legalized. Also, it would keep cultivation jobs in Rhode Island opposed to the neighboring Bay State, the group said.

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