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The New World Of Retail Pot Is Here

The City Council and Planning Board Have Started the Process

Where Will The businesses Be Located?

By William Legault


Last year the voters of Salem voted to approve the legalization of recreational marijuana.  60% of those who cast a ballot voted yes.  I was not one of them.  As a City Councillor and as a voter I approved of medicinal marijuana.  I could not bring myself to approve the recreational use as a voter, and would have had trouble supporting it if still on the council.  So be it

There are those who say that the voters, or at least some of them did not truly know what they were voting for.  That statement is made often, especially by those who came up short on an issue.  I recall a City Councillor saying that about the City Charter vote more than a decade ago.  He was convinced the voters had been bamboozled by clever political characters.  His statement to the SNEWS was proof at the time that the local politicians, or at least that one of them, weren’t really all that clever.

By approving legalization at the ballot in Salem, we also approved the the retail sale of marijuana.  The amount of licenses will be limited, probably three or possibly four at most.  One is grandfathered to Alternative Therapies Group, the others will be put to bid. No other medicinal facilties will have the grandfather benefit.  These licenses, just like liquor licenses will be issued and controlled by the State. The newly formed Cannabis Control Commission is the agency tasked with the issue, control and oversight of the licenses.

In Peabody, since voters did not approve legalization, their City Council was able to enact a ban on retail sales.  The vote to approve in Salem means the only way to ban retail sales is by a ballot referendum. It was approved by the voters, so it can only be stopped by the voters.

The primary question in Salem now is simple, or not so simple, depending on your perspective.  Where in the city will the retail shops operate?  That is where zoning comes in.  The City Council has sent some draft zoning amendments to the Planning Board for their discussion and consideration.  The Planning Board will then send their recommendations back to the City Council. Planning Boards basically set regulations based on legality and not on personal opinions.  Whatever they finally send back will then become fodder for assuredly long and laborious debate in the council chambers.

Some of the councillors who are returning in 2018 are already on the record as desiring that the B1 zoning districts continue to be excluded.  The B1 zones are meant for smaller “Mom & Pop” operations and they worry about the shops being too close to truly residential neighborhoods. This despite the fact that many B2 zones actually abut B1 zones. The B2 zones are usually along larger and busier streets. A B2 zoned business can actually be directly across the street form a B1 zoned business. For these reasons they may also object to B2 zones being approved.

B3 zones are generally small to mid-sized shopping areas, while B4 and B5 zones are generally in the downtown districts. I would expect the Planning Board to approve B2 through B5 for Salem.

Once it returns back to the City Council, which will not before the new 2018-19 group is seated the discussion over B2 will be very active and spirited.

There will also be discussion as to the proximity of these businesses to playgrounds, parks, churches, and schools.  Just like liquor stores they cannot, by state law be closer than 500 feet to playgrounds (not parks), churches and schools.  It seems that some councillors may want to change that distance to 1,000 feet, and to also include the perimeters of parks and Salem State University.  They may or may not be able to make any of those changes depending on what state law dictates

There is much work to be done by all involved, especially the Planning Board, Planning Department, the City Solicitor and the Salem City Council.

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