Planning boards in South County have begun seeking answers to where a medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed to operate in their towns.
Three applications for Berkshire County have been submitted in response to a 2012 voter-approved medical marijuana law that allows for up to 35 statewide dispensary licenses. The dispensary location does not have to be released until applications have been vetted.
None of these applicants are expected to establish in Great Barrington, Otis or Becket, according to town officials and planning board members. Still, the towns are establishing guidelines in case a business does approach them.
Each of the towns say they are accepting public opinion. A bylaw addition would need to be approved at town meeting, unless Planning Board members deem a dispensary operation can establish by right.
At a recent meeting in Great Barrington, the Planning Board struggled to find a place in Housatonic or Great Barrington's town center where a dispensary could operate. The meeting resulted in more questions than answers.
According to guidelines from the state, a dispensary should be located at least 500 feet from places serving children, including schools and community centers. That would limit a facility to the outskirts of town.
In an informal vote, all members said they didn't have objections to a medical marijuana facility. They asked Town Planner Chris Rembold to find out whether the town has flexibility on how far a business could be located.
The Planning Board also questioned whether a dispensary could be established by right. A dispensary, for example, could be categorized as a retail and agricultural establishment, members said. They agreed to continue discussion at a later meeting.
In Becket, Planning Board Chairman Robert Ronzio said the board has agreed to hold public hearings on the matter. As the town's zoning bylaw is currently written, a dispensary would need a special permit because the entire town is zoned for residential.
Ronzio said public input will determine the bylaw. However, he suspected the ordinance would resemble what's in place for adult entertainment, which prohibits establishing near churches and schools.
After drafting an ordinance, he said the bylaw would be reviewed by the Select Board. There would be public hearings and would require a two-thirds vote during Town Meeting.
Ronzio said he doubts a dispensary would come to Becket. The Department of Public Health has prohibited more than five medical marijuana dispensaries in a single county. There is also one dispensary required in each county.
In a town without a gas station and away from I-90, Becket is unlikely to have any concerns, but the town should be prepared.
"The committee felt we should probably have some say, if there is going to be a facility, where it will be located," Ronzio said.
In Otis, the Planning Board also hosted a recent public hearing. Planning Board Chairman Harold Kobrin said the town was fulfilling a formality to request a moratorium from the state attorney general. The town would then draft a bylaw based on what other towns have adopted.
No dispensaries have approached the town, he said.