Oak Bluffs planning board redefines proposed marijuana dispensary districts

Oak Bluffs planning board members huddled around a town assessors map Thursday as they considered possible locations for a registered marijuana dispensary (RMD) overlay district. Left to right: Brian Packish, Erik Albert, Kris Chvatal, chairman John Bradford, Robert Fehl and administrative assistant Shelley Carter. — Photo by Michelle Gross

The Oak Bluffs planning board amended its list of possible locations for a registered marijuana dispensary (RMD) overlay district. Meeting October 3, the board added a new location that would include all designated B1 business district properties that abut Dukes County Avenue, including the School Street garage property, and removed three parcels from the boundaries of a proposed district off of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

At their meeting on September 26, planners identified a total of 13 parcels across three locations where a new district might be created, including one in the hospital district, six off Holmes Hole Road, and six along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, between Goodale Construction Company and Bayes Norton Farm.

On Thursday, planners removed three of the six parcels from the proposed Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road location, after Jamie Norton, owner of two parcels, told town planners he and Peter Palches, owner of one lot, objected to having their property included in any new RMD zoning district.

“My perception is you’re creating properties because you want to find areas where it can’t happen,” Mr. Norton said Thursday. “You’re saying, let’s take Oak Bluffs’s problem and put it on these owners.”

The planning board discussion follows the September 23 release of a decision by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) making 158 statewide applicants eligible to move on to phase two of an application process that may ultimately allow a total of 35 medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts to cultivate and market medical marijuana and marijuana infused products.

There are four applicants applying for a license to open an RMD on the Island. Two have indicated an interest in locations in West Tisbury, and one applicant, businessman Mark Wallace, and his son, Jordan Wallace, operating as Kingsbury Group Corporation, propose to set up shop in Oak Bluffs.

The decision to add a proposed district that includes Dukes County avenue and the B1 properties followed a request by Michael Mahoney, a Boston lawyer who represents Kingsbury Group. At a meeting on September 26, Mr. Mahoney told the planning board that his client was interested in that location because of its location in an area zoned for business and low-impact on the community.

According to state law, an RMD may not be sited within 500 feet of a school, daycare center, or any facility in which children commonly congregate. Municipalities may implement local zoning code changes or establish regulations and fees that will affect RMDs.

The decision where to place an RMD is based on three criteria established by the planning board, including accessibility to the site, anonymity on behalf of the patients, and finally what the impact on the town and surrounding area would be.

DPH further stipulates that all applicants are required to comply with all municipal rules, regulations, and bylaws in the town in which they are applying to open.

Que sera

“The anonymity thing I think you guys are over-engineering,” Mark Wallace, one of four Dukes County applicants, told the planners on October 3. “I think you’ll find as this progresses, it’s a little bit of the boy who cried wolf, it’s not going to be the issue that you think it’s going to be.”

“I don’t think anybody is crying wolf,” Oak Bluffs selectman Gail Barmakian told the planners. “Anonymity is an issue and safety is an issue. We have the advantage of seeing the consequences suffered in California and Colorado. That’s why Massachusetts has tried to tailor this as much as they can to protect not only the safety of the public but also the safety of the people that go to these places.”

Jordan Wallace told planners that medical marijuana is the least of their worries when it comes to safety.

“On Main Street, we sell alcohol and opiates,” Mr. Wallace said. “As far as crime and diversion go, in my opinion, there are more dangerous drugs being sold on Main Street and that’s because people are acclimated to it, just like people will become acclimated to this drug.”

Ms. Barmakian also stressed to planners that an RMD should not be considered a business.

“This is not a business,” Ms. Barmakian said. “It’s a dispensary. The state has consciously called it a dispensary. It’s not a pharmacy. The state has done everything it can not to do it for profit-making activities.”

The planning board will hold a public hearing November 7 on the proposed districts.

The planning board has submitted an article for a November 12 special town meeting warrant, at which Oak Bluffs voters will decide whether they will approve a new RMD overlay district. A two-thirds approval is needed to pass the zoning bylaw change.