Nearly a year after Massachusetts voters agreed to legalize medical marijuana, Vineyard towns and marijuana dispensary applicants are navigating the regulatory process, mostly focusing on where dispensaries should be located on the Island.
Four applicants are in the running to open dispensaries on-Island, while two Island towns will bring proposed zoning regulations to town meeting voters this fall.
Last November at the polls Massachusetts residents approved a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for those with certain medical conditions. On the Vineyard, the measure was approved by a strong majority of voters.
In the spring, towns began to address the potential impacts of the new law while the state was still working on regulations. At annual town meetings, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven approved bylaws banning public consumption of marijuana, while Edgartown and Aquinnah defeated similar measures. Edgartown voters approved a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries so the town could draft regulations, while Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs said no to a moratorium.
West Tisbury had both proposals on their spring special town meeting warrant, but the meeting was rescheduled to this fall cancelled because there was not a quorum.
Since then, the state has drafted regulations and an application process is underway. Under the new law, the state can have up to 35 nonprofit, registered marijuana dispensaries. There must be at least one but no more than five of the dispensaries in each county.
Qualified patients with specific debilitating diseases, such as cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, will be able to receive registration cards from approved physicians.
The state attorney general has ruled that towns are not allowed to ban the dispensaries, but they can adopt zoning bylaws and regulations.
During the first phase of applications, 181 groups applied for licenses. Of those, 158 applications were approved to go to the second phase.
These applicants include four who have applied for licenses in Dukes County.
The second phase is more rigorous, and requires applicants to provide extensive information and to notify local authorities of their intentions. There is a nonrefundable $30,000 application fee, and applications are due Nov. 21.
While a state process will dictate who can operate the dispensaries, Island communities are looking at making their own regulations. The Oak Bluffs planning board has proposed a registered medical marijuana dispensary overlay district. The proposal, which will be on a November special town meeting warrant, would allow dispensaries in all of the B-1 business district along Dukes County avenue. The dispensaries would also be allowed in a small area near the hospital, which is in the town’s health care district. Three other areas are in the proposed overlay district: two on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near Goodale’s sand pit and one location on Holmes Hole Road near Tisbury.
No dispensary can be located at the hospital. “Because we’re under contract with the government through Medicare, we still fall under federal laws,” hospital president and chief executive officer Timothy Walsh said. “It’s still illegal on the federal side so we couldn’t do anything. We’re not doing it.”
Planning board chairman John Bradford told the Gazette this week that Oak Bluffs used three criteria for picking the areas where the dispensaries could be located: the areas should be accessible by public and private transportation, have adequate parking and protect the confidentiality of those going to the dispensary.
Dukes County avenue was chosen because it is a commercial area that is not right downtown and has year-round traffic, Mr. Bradford said. He said the other areas also meet the criteria.
The dispensaries would be allowed by special permit issued by the board of appeals. Other dispensary guidelines require that that they cannot be located within 500 feet of any school attended by children under 18, a licensed child care facility, a correctional facility or another dispensary.
“We just sort of took a map of the town and took a look at areas that might be possible and we came up with what we have now,” Mr. Bradford said.
He said if voters do not approve some type of bylaw, dispensaries would essentially be allowed anywhere within the B-1 and B-2 districts. There are some state regulations, including a prohibition of locating dispensaries within 500 feet of schools.
There will be a public hearing on the issue on Nov. 7. Mr. Bradford said it is possible that the bylaw could be amended on the town meeting floor.
“Everything is kind of up in the air because nobody knows who is going to be issued a license or what criteria the state will use,” he said.
The Oak Bluffs selectmen this week had concerns about the town meeting article. Selectman Gail Barmakian said part of Dukes County avenue would be illegal because it is too close to a public park or recreation area, and too close to the Camp Ground.
Jeff Ferriell, the president of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, told the selectmen that the association recently voted unanimously to oppose including Dukes County avenue in the zoning area.
“We just think it would be a bad idea for our children and our residents,” he said.
The selectmen voted to send a letter to the planning board asking them to eliminate Dukes County avenue from the proposal.
In West Tisbury, voters will be asked at a special town meeting Nov. 5 to amend town zoning bylaws to allow dispensaries in the mixed business and light industrial districts. Both areas are off State Road, one by Up-Island Cronig’s and the other near Old Stage Road. The dispensaries would be allowed by special permit, with selectmen as the granting authority.
West Tisbury selectmen took issue not with the zoning, but with being the granting authority. Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter said last week he would be more comfortable if the zoning board of appeals was the granting authority.
Selectmen said they would revisit the issue in the next few weeks.
A few other Island towns are just beginning to look at regulations.
Henry Stephenson, co-chairman of the Tisbury planning board, said his board has not yet drafted regulations but discussed the need to do so at their meeting this week.
“The consensus of the board was that we would adopt a model similar to others on the Island,” Mr. Stephenson said. He said the board will likely want to locate dispensaries in one of the town’s two business districts.
“Other than that, specific details haven’t been pinned down,” he said.
Edgartown, too, is looking at regulations but has not yet formally drafted any, planning board member Robert Cavallo said.
Neither Chilmark nor Aquinnah have looked at regulations, representatives from those towns said Thursday. Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson said a dispensary would be unlikely in Aquinnah, which has no commercial district. Meanwhile, dispensary applicants are working on a rigorous application process and seeking locations for their proposed businesses.
Geoffrey Rose, who has applied as part of Patient Centric of Martha’s Vineyard Ltd., said he has a lease on a property on State Road in West Tisbury, and has notified the town administrator, police chief, and county sheriff, as required.
“We believe this is a collaborative effort and we should be working together to make sure that a dispensary is done in the best way it can be,” he said, adding that the business should be a partnership with the town. “We hope West Tisbury voters see it the same way,” he said.
Mr. Rose also operates Our Island Club.
Susan Sanford as part of Greenleaf MV Compassionate Care Inc. and Michael Peters as MV Greencross Inc. have also submitted applications. They could not be reached for comment.
Mark Wallace and his son, Jordan, are part of the Kingsbury Group Inc., which has applied to open dispensaries on the Vineyard and in Barnstable.
“We have a couple of proposed locations,” Mark Wallace said. Right now, he said the Kingsbury group is looking at a location in Vineyard Haven, among others. One member of the company owns property on Holmes Hole Road. Jordan Wallace said he’s heard the airport area mentioned as a potential location.
“We’re willing to locate this anywhere people on the Island are willing to see this,” Mark Wallace said. “Our plan is to keep it low-profile,” Jordan Wallace said. “Our greatest concern is working with the community.”
Olivia Hull and Remy Tumin contributed reporting.