2017-10-05 / Front Page

Planning board says town should ban marijuana

Officials want to remove any potential ambiguity

To protect the character of the community and the “health, safety and welfare of its citizens,” the planning commissioners are recommending a prohibition of commercialized marijuana in town.

According to a draft unveiled to the town councilors at Monday’s meeting, cultivating, processing, distributing and selling marijuana will be restricted in all 12 zoning districts. That does not, however, affect personal growers licensed by the state.

“Marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the 1970s and the ’80s,” Police Chief Ed Mello said about the increased potency. “It’s not my father’s marijuana.”

The planning board met four times in August and September to consider regulations following a six-month moratorium imposed by the councilors in June. The town decided on the temporary freeze because of the mounting support nationwide for legalized recreational marijuana, including Massachusetts.

“No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s inevitable that there will be a retail market for marijuana,” Mello said.

While the state’s so-called Medical Marijuana Act establishes a framework for licensed growers, it also requires them to comply with local ordinances. According to state law, growers only will be licensed after they “provide evidence of compliance with the local zoning laws for each physical address to be utilized as a compassion center or for the secure cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Currently, marijuana is not mentioned in the town’s zoning code. Although Town Planner Lisa Bryer contends that unnamed uses are “assumed prohibited,” she doesn’t want legal ambiguity concerning the regulations on agriculture, which is allowed in every district.

The board listened to lengthy testimony from Mello during its deliberations. According to Mello, a marijuana patient can grow up to 12 mature plants and 12 seedlings at a time. Each plant, he said, yields 14 to 24 ounces of usable marijuana, which has a street value of between $300 to $500 an ounce. That amount generates roughly 40 joints, making growing marijuana “extremely financially beneficial,” he said.

If patients are unable to grow pot, they can hire a caregiver to cultivate it for them. The provider, who also must be licensed, can have two patients, which means upwards of 24 plants and 24 seedlings per grower. Every single plant needs to be licensed and tagged by the Department of Business Regulation. Currently, there are 20 homes in Jamestown that grow marijuana legally, Mello said.

“There is potential that there are 480 medical marijuana plants growing in Jamestown right now,” he said.

Another issue, Mello said, is the potential for crime. In similar communities, including Barrington and East Greenwich, there have been home invasions and armed robberies stemming from legalized growers. Also, electrical overloads from heating elements related to cultivation have caused multiple house fires since 2015, and the financial benefits of growing marijuana have influenced small-scale growers to turn their entire property into a cultivation facility.

“They are popping up in rural areas and residential areas throughout the country,” he said.

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said he can draft an ordinance for the Oct. 16 town council meeting. Following that step, the proposal would be advertised in the newspaper and a public hearing scheduled. The councilors ultimately will decide whether to heed the commission’s recommendation.

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