In line with new state laws for recreational marijuana, Brookline is working toward a list of local regulations, to be addressed as warrant measures during Town Meeting this May.
Included in those measures is language that could alter the cap for available licenses. The Brookline Planning Board and the Licensing Review Committee held a public hearing to discuss the proposed local regulations Jan. 24.
Brookline is considering a number of warrant measures, most related to the cap. The warrant measures are a preliminary step and are still going through public forums, surveys and research before being finalized to decide what needs to be brought to Town Meeting.
The state Cannabis Control Commission (CNB), responsible for state regulations, issuing licenses and providing oversight for marijuana establishments, is set to file finalized regulations by March 15. It will begin accepting applications by April 1 and begin issuing licenses as early as June 1.
Brookline is aiming to have these proposed regulations in place by June.
Considering a cap on special permits
Included in Brookline’s proposed regulations is a cap on the number of special permits, at the state minimum of 20 percent of the number of outstanding package store licenses – about four to five licenses. The proposal does allow for a change to the cap during Town Meeting in May, but if the town wishes to go below the minimum state requirement, there must be a town-wide vote.
According to the proposed draft of the warrant articles, state law requires at least one license available for existing medical marijuana facilities. Precinct 16 Town Meeting member Regina Frawley argued in favor of a cap of zero, which Assistant Town Counsel Patricia Correa confirmed as a possibility.
“The cap is something that might change at Town Meeting. Town Meeting could easily propose a cap of zero, they could also propose a cap of 50 licenses, so these layers that regulate density and size might be overly burdensome,” said Francisco Torres, the town’s economic development and long-term planner.
According to Correa, the town’s understanding – after town counsel’s meeting with the Massachusetts Municipal Association and a private attorney – is that the cap be set at zero with a town-wide vote, regardless of any medical marijuana dispensary already operating in town.
If Town Meeting does not vote to set the cap to zero, once CNB issues licenses, existing medical marijuana establishments, in this case, New England Treatment Access (NETA), will receive priority.
During the hearing, some, such as Precinct 2 Town Meeting member Linda Olson Pehlke expressed concern about the cap being reduced below the minimum requirement.
“If you recall, we voted on this in November 2016; that was the presidential election and we were all pretty heavily motivated to vote, so the results of that election, in my opinion, are a fairly good read of what this town wants,” said Olson Pehlke. “I think there’s the problem of a small minority, a vocal minority, a motivated minority could potentially thwart the will of the voters of this town through that process.”
Other regulations being considered
The other regulations include the adoption of a local option sales tax for recreational marijuana. According to Torres, the Planning Board and Licensing Review Committee have been following the processes of places such as Denver, Colorado, and have seen that the influx of marijuana locations created a revenue that could be used for developing town infrastructure like building new schools.
Brookline’s proposal for recreational marijuana mimics that of their medical marijuana proposal, but is not finalized and will be open to public comment before going before Town Meeting.
The current state buffer zone requires that marijuana establishments be at least 500 feet away from K-12 public and private schools, daycare centers and other places where children congregate.
The Brookline proposal would create a buffer zone only surrounding K-12 schools and refraining establishments from being directly in the same building as daycare centers, but would not require the 500- foot distance from daycare centers and other places where children congregate, according to Correa.
The proposal would also suggest limiting the size of the establishments to 4,000 square feet in order to address concerns, such as traffic increase in the areas.
Although 60 percent of Brookline voters were in favor of recreational marijuana, there were some concerns expressed during the hearing regarding health impacts, mostly for those underage. The law holds the same 21 age-requirement as liquor laws.
Precinct 8 Town Meeting member Barbara Scotto raised concerns about accessibility for college-age kids based on Brookline’s proposed map, which identified space across from Boston University on Commonwealth Avenue as a potential building space.
“It worries me because the case is out on the effect of marijuana on still-developing brains and it’s fairly easily accessible to kids that are 17, 18, 19, 20,” Scotto said. “It’s not a population that I think we should be encouraging to be using marijuana. I think when you put dispensaries in that area, that’s what we’re doing.”
The boundaries depicted in the map show space for potential recreational businesses in commercial areas such as Chestnut Hill alongside Boylston, along Harvard Street in Brookline Village, Coolidge Corner area, along Cypress Street, Putterham Circle and Cleveland Circle. These spaces identified on the maps show locations outside the buffer zones, not necessarily ideal locations. Areas such as Washington Square are extremely limited due to the density of school properties.
Outside of health concerns, the town discussed the dangers of there being no true technology to support testing someone driving while under the influence of marijuana.
“We had some concerns of people smoking marijuana and then driving their car, operating under the influence, and how there’s no testing for that, but that really isn’t the case,” Torres said. “With any new industry, new technology shortly follows and I’ve done some research and seen that there’s new technology coming out of California that’s going to help [law] enforcement figure out very similar to driving under the influence of alcohol.”
Review of the proposed regulations is still underway. The Licensing Review Committee will hold two more meetings on Feb. 8 and March 1, both at 8:30 a.m.