Published March 8, 2019

MELROSE — Route 99 it is.

The aldermen, for all intents and purposes, decided this week to allow one adult recreational marijuana business within city borders. The Appropriations Committee voted 9-2 on an amended motion to cap the total of recreational pot shops at one in Melrose after agreeing that a plan to bring one to downtown Main Street was not such a great one.

City planners, looking at the coming wave known as the legalized marijuana business, originally sought to limit the pot shops to two so the most tax revenue could be generated from them. Similar zoning districts on Route 99 and on Washington Street were eyed as potential locations, but neighborhood comments about the adverse effects on traffic and overall safety took the latter out of consideration.

Then a spot downtown was proposed, since there is the same zoning district there. The corresponding zoning district is on Main Street, basically from Grove Street north to Hospital Square.

Ward 6 Alderman Peter Mortimer successfully led the charge against a downtown location.

On Tuesday, Mortimer said that under state law, Melrose must have at least one recreational marijuana-oriented, in part because when a statewide ballot question asked whether local voters wanted to pass the recreational use of marijuana, a majority of Melrosians said yes.

“Downtown is not the place for it,” Mortimer explained. “Let’s keep it on Route 99, where there aren’t any nearby schools or residential properties, and see how it plays out.”

Mortimer said that he has seen widely varying figures on how much revenue would be generated from a recreational marijuana business, anywhere from $30,000 to $500,000 or more a year. 

“My feeling is this: We have a chance to pump the brakes and slow this whole thing down. (For now, having just one pot shop) will allow us to see how much money the city can realize, and how it all works,” said the longtime alderman, who added that another location could always be brought up in the future.

Ward 5 Alderman Shawn McMaster, whose district includes the Washington Street area rejected as a site for a pot shop, was against even having one in the city. Saying that he is “risk averse,” McMaster mentioned at the Appropriations Committee meeting Monday that recreational marijuana use is still federally illegal and he didn’t want to take any chances that a current federal suit against the City of Cambridge for allowing it would pass muster.

An area along Route 99 is not in dispute as a Melrose pot shop location. A medical marijuana facility called Garden Remedies is already open there and said to be doing great business.

By way of background, Anne DeSouza-Ward, Planning Board chairwoman, wrote in a very detailed memo to Mayor Gail Infurna and the aldermen that the originally proposed zoning amendment came to them following a Planning Board vote on November 26.

“The purpose of this amendment is to regulate marijuana establishments following the end of the temporary moratorium on this use and to make minor modifications to the regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries (RMDs),” wrote DeSouza-Ward.

“Residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts voted to authorize the adult use of recreational marijuana and the licensing of marijuana establishments during the general election on November 8, 2016 as a part of the ballot initiative known as Question 4. After a series of legislative amendments, the ballot initiative became Massachusetts General Law Chapter 94G, Regulation of the Use and Distribution of Marijuana Not Medically Prescribed. This law established a five-person Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to draft regulations, issue and renew licenses for marijuana establishments, promote equity considerations, and more. The CCC published its final regulations, 935 CMR 500.000: Adult Use of Marijuana, in the Massachusetts Register on March 23, 2018.

“Melrose residents voted 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent on Question 4, with the majority in favor of authorizing adult use marijuana. In order to give the City time to study and address the complex legal, planning, and public safety issues associated with adult use marijuana, the Board of Aldermen approved Ordinance No. 2017-130 on August 21, 2017 to enact a temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana establishments. The moratorium is permitted through December 31, 2018. In order to prepare for the expiration of the moratorium, Planning Staff and members of the Planning Board’s Zoning Subcommittee met multiple times during the fall of 2018 to draft zoning regulations for recreational marijuana.

“On August 21, 2017, the Board of Aldermen also approved Ordinance No. 2017-129, which regulates registered marijuana dispensaries in the City of Melrose. This amendment to the Melrose Zoning Ordinance (MZO) set policies and procedures for the regulation of medical marijuana, including the establishment of a special permit process for approving RMDs in the BB and I Zoning Districts. Since the zoning was created, the Planning Board (the Special Permit Granting Authority) has approved one RMD special permit for Garden Remedies at 732 Newburyport Turnpike (Route 99), which is now open for business.

“Along with developing legislation for recreational marijuana, the Massachusetts Legislature has also created additional laws related to medical marijuana that are meant to reconcile inconsistencies between the two programs. The major change to the Commonwealth’s medical program is that it has been moved from within the Department of Public Health (DPH) to the Cannabis Control Commission. As such, the former regulations under 105 CMR 725.000 are being transferred to 935 CMR 501.000: Medical Use of Marijuana. Prior to transferring the medical program to the CCC, DPH issued guidance for RMDs who wish to convert to domestic business corporations as the new laws no longer require RMDs to be not-for-profit entities. The Cannabis Control Commission has also issued draft regulations for 935 CMR 502.000: Colocated Adult-Use and Medical-Use Marijuana Operations.

“One of the recommended amendments proposed herein would modify the definition of ‘Registered Marijuana Dispensary’ in the MZO to better align with the updated regulations for medical marijuana establishments. The modified definition also removes the reference to a nonprofit entity.

“As it relates to recreational marijuana, the Planning Board proposes adding a new Section to the Melrose Zoning Ordinance: Section 235-73.4. Marijuana Establishments. Under this Section, the Planning Board would be authorized to grant Special Permits pursuant to Section 235-61 (Special Permit Granting Authorities). This Section outlines the process for regulating non- medical marijuana establishments, including provisions around location, operation, signage, and security and the specific findings that must be made before the Planning Board may issue an approval. Similar to the process for regulating RMDs, this process is clear and comprehensive, and allows for input from the public and City officials.

“While registered marijuana dispensaries refer to businesses that grow, process, and sell medical marijuana, the definition of ‘Marijuana Establishments’ specifically refers to businesses engaged in recreational marijuana uses.

“The proposed zoning amendment introduces a number of new uses related to marijuana and recreational marijuana, such as marijuana retailers, cultivators, testing labs, and more. Each of the marijuana establishment types requires a separate license from the CCC and, in the case that one or more different types of marijuana establishments are proposed at one location, the Planning Board recommends requiring a Special Permit for each establishment type,” the memo states.