January 24 2017

Why the Marijuana Moratorium Warrant Article was Delayed

By: Rich Hosford

There was one Town Meeting warrant article that garnered a lot of discussion at various board meetings but was not taken up for a vote on Monday.


It was the proposed moratorium on recreational marijuana that was submitted by the Board of Selectmen at the request of the Planning Board. The article was postponed until the May Town Meeting.


The article called for a “temporary moratorium on the use of land or structures for recreational marijuana establishments and any other uses or activities related to recreational marijuana.” The moratorium would have been in effect through September 30, 2018 or 6 months after the date the state’s Cannabis Control Commission would finalize its regulations.


The purpose of the moratorium was to give the town time to discuss and potentially draft zoning bylaws and regulations in the wake of the successful ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana last November. Potential actions could have been to say establishments that sell marijuana can’t be near schools, churches, playgrounds and other sites deemed to be sensitive. It would also give the town time to study the state regulations and see what is and is not allowed as far as restricting recreational marijuana establishments.


So why was it delayed?


Planning Board Chair Barbara L’Heureux explained in an interview with BNEWS. She said the delay, passed unanimously by the board, was a way to keep open the option of having a binding referendum without leaving open a window of time when the town wouldn’t be protected by a moratorium.


Basically the state has indicated that moratoriums are allowed but any over 18 months long would likely not be approved by the Attorney General’s office. So if Burlington passed one now, it would expire in mid-2018 (though the warrant article was seeking to try to have it last until September). However, if the Board of Selectmen or a citizens group wanted to have a referendum vote, it needs to time that with a state election. The next state election is in November of 2018.


So by delaying the vote until May, the town can, it is believed, impose an 18-month moratorium that would be in effect beyond the November 2018 election.


“[The delay] was meant to cover that gap,” L’Heureux said.


As of yet there is no certainty there will be a referendum vote. L’Heureux said one could be put forward by the selectmen or a citizen or group of residents could work to get the signature necessary to get one on the ballot.


A referendum would not necessarily be a ban on marijuana sales in town, L’Heuruex said, though that might be a possibility. She said it could set up rules such as no consumption of marijuana at its place of sale, like a ‘marijuana bar.” Other options are possible and can be discussed.


“We don’t know if we’re going to do a binding referendum but we want the option,” L’Heureux said.

She also said that due to state rules any entity that proposes a recreational marijuana establishment before May will still be subject to the full moratorium if Town Meeting votes to approve it at that time.


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