Northampton zoning proposal: If a liquor store is allowed, so is marijuana

It’s been nearly two years since voters across Massachusetts voted to legalize marijuana, which set state legislative officials on the long process of creating regulations for the budding legal weed retail industry. But starting July 1, the legal weed business will be blooming.

Across the commonwealth, cities and towns are readying for the new industry by crafting zoning ordinances, including the city of Northampton, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of recreational marijuana in 2016 with 68.9 percent of residents supportive of legal weed, according to Politicker. 

The Cannabis Control Commission will begin accepting applications for cannabis licenses starting April 1, according to the commission’s website.

Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability, said the City Council is slated to vote on several retail marijuana related ordinances at its March 15 meeting, coinciding with the state’s finalization of recreational marijuana regulations.

“Our basic approach, which I think is reflected in the ordinances, is this is no different than liquor and we more or less treat it the same way,” Feiden said. “From a zoning standpoint, if a liquor store is allowed there, this will be allowed there.”

Here’s some of the key marijuana ordinances moving forward in Northampton retail marijuana businesses are allowed in all commercially zoned areas of the city, but there’s a 200-foot buffer zone for schools and religious institutions, zoning that is the same as with medical marijuana dispensaries. There’s also no caps on how many retail marijuana businesses would be allowed in the city, Feiden said.

However, the City Council has the option to develop a cap on recreational marijuana businesses allowed in the community.

“They might do that at some future stage, but we’re not recommending that,” Feiden said.  

The city is taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes any other social consumption, he said. Until the Cannabis Control Commission finalizes regulations throughout the state, consumption of marijuana at any business remains an uncertainty.  

“It didn’t make sense for us to have something in zoning that wasn’t essentially legal under state law,” he said. “If the state allows it, then we can revisit it.”

Northampton won’t allow smoking to take place at retail businesses because it’s not allowed under existing regulations for tobacco, Feiden said.

Stores that sell marijuana in the downtown area would also have to conform to the same regulations as other businesses any business would have to fit with existing architecture aesthetics and would be regulated much the same a liquor stores in that explicit weed imagery would be prohibited, he said.

As far as parking regulations for retail pot shops, if any are located downtown they wouldn’t require specific parking spots, which is the same as any other business located in the area, Feiden said.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

Author: Chris Goudreau

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