As the state prepares to award medical marijuana dispensary permits sometime next year, West Tisbury voters overwhelmingly approved a zoning bylaw to regulate the facilities at a special town meeting Tuesday night.
The bylaw allows dispensaries in the mixed business and light industrial districts in town via a special permit process. The zoning board of appeals will be the permitting authority.
A total of 164 voters turned out to the special session. Moderator F. Patrick Gregory presided over the 12-article warrant, most of which was approved.
The vote on the bylaw came after more than an hour of discussion over the merits of having regulations in town, the best location for dispensaries and the implications of approving or rejecting the bylaw. Mr. Gregory acknowledged there are still questions around the bylaw.
“A yes vote gives you locations that can be monitored under zoning bylaws, a no vote -- we don’t know what the final answer is,” Mr. Gregory said.
Julia Humphries spoke in opposition to the bylaw.
“Given the fact that we’re [likely] only going to have one dispensary on the Island, I think many of us would prefer it to be in Oak Bluffs,” she said. “If we vote yes, it’s a de facto demonstration of support . . . I personally would rather see the dispensary in another town.”
Brian Smith urged voters to approve the measure.
“I don’t know why we’re treating this like a strip joint. This is a place where someone with a serious illness is going to get help,” he said. “This isn’t going to be a huge thing . . . the projections are 150 to 200 patients [on-Island] to this location. It’s not going to be masses of people.”
Susan Sanford, one of the two applicants for a state permit to operate a dispensary in West Tisbury, said approving the bylaw would make it an inclusive process.
“Special permitting gives everyone in here the ability to give input and create more of a community collaboration,” she said.
An amendment to limit the dispensary location to the light industrial district at the airport business park failed. A motion to indefinitely postpone the bylaw also failed.
In the end, the bylaw was approved 132 to 2.
In a separate article, voters indefinitely postponed an article that would have prohibited the public consumption of marijuana. Voters said it needed more work and should be consistent with the town’s bylaw regulating cigarette smoke in public.
“I think we have to be consistent,” voter Doug Ruskin said. “I believe that ingesting second-hand tobacco smoke also has adverse effects . . . if this is about smoke, then I don’t think it would be consistent. I think we have to vote it down.”
There was also heavy discussion around a proposed article that would eliminate the quorum requirement at town meetings. Voters were asked to rescind a town bylaw that requires five per cent of registered voters to be present in order for meetings to proceed.
Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd endorsed the measure and said those who chose to attend town meetings shouldn’t be “penalized” if a quorum is not present.
“Those who care enough to participate in town government should be able to participate,” he said.
Nick Puner disagreed.
“It seems to me this is the people’s business and the town government is accountable to the people,” he said. “It’s always a shame if a quorum is not present so business cannot be conducted, but this seems to be a minor inconvenience compared with going backwards, which is what I think we would be doing if we abolished a very sensible rule.”
Voters agreed with Mr. Puner and overwhelmingly defeated the measure.
In other business, voters also agreed to make the elected town treasurer position an appointed position. Current town treasurer Kathy Logue said the needs of the job go beyond the state requirements and necessitate a certain set of skills. She said she is the last elected treasurer on the Island.
“It’s important for the town to recognize that one should be hired for this position based on one’s merits rather than running for it only on one’s name or popularity,” she said. The pool of eligible candidates is also widened if the position is appointed, Ms. Logue said. Elected officials are required to live in town.
“I think that that’s an important change for us to make as it gets increasingly hard for us to fill town positions,” Ms. Logue said.
The vote is contingent on approval of a corresponding ballot question at the annual town election in April.
Voters also approved $10,000 in community preservation committee funds for the town’s share of a window replacement project at the county courthouse in Edgartown, $7,400 to buy a cabinet to hold historic town documents at the town library and $10,000 toward the building inspector’s position.