WOONSOCKET — An amendment to the Zoning Ordinance that opens the door to indoor cultivation of medical marijuana on a commercial scale is officially in the pipeline.
The measure, which would abolish the existing prohibition on indoor pot farms, was introduced by the City Council on Sept. 4. In a standard procedure for zoning amendments, however, members tabled the measure for review by the Planning Board.
The council may vote on it only after planners hold a public hearing and offer a recommendation on the measure – a process that could take months.
The council formed a subcommittee to develop the ordinance after the owners of 159 Singleton St. – a 240,000-square-foot factory known as the Nyanza Mill – repeatedly urged city officials to do so. Gerry Beyer, the property manager for First Republic Corporation of New York, told city officials the mill had become unprofitable after the demise of its textile spinning operations about two years ago, but a number of licensed marijuana cultivators had approached the firm about leasing space in the facility.
The current version of the measure would allow properly state-licensed marijuana cultivators to operate in structures located in Industrial Zones 1 and 2 without a permit – provided they meet certain geographic criteria. No cultivation facility could set up shop on a parcel of less than five acres. The nearest school or day care center must be at least 1,000 feet away, and the nearest residential structure at least 300.
As a practical matter, the restrictions mean there are fewer than two dozen sites in the city where a licensed cultivator could lawfully operate, according to City Council President Dan Gendron.
Gendron, Councilman James C. Cournoyer and Councilwoman Melissa Murray served on the subcommittee that developed the draft of the proposed ordinance. With the assistance of the Zoning Office and the Department of Planning and Development, Gendron said, they assembled a number ordinances already on the books in other municipalities to see how indoor cultivation centers are regulated elsewhere.
“We kind of picked and chose the kinds of things that were most appropriate for the city of Woonsocket, going along with state law, to make it sure we had something that was both beneficial and sufficiently restrictive,” said Gendron.
One thing the subcommittee learned as it did its research, said Gendron, is that indoor cultivation of medical marijuana will not be a big payday for the city. Cultivators already pay yearly licensing fees to the state Department of Business Regulation and the city is prohibited from legislating any new licensing fees on top of those. The city has no authority to levy any sort of municipal tax on the product.
The city does have the authority to tax equipment used to grow marijuana, the most costly of which usually consists of lighting, plumbing and ventilation gear.
“Somewhere it needs to be said that there’s not going to be this huge financial windfall here that some officials may have been suggesting,” said Gendron.
The most critical concerns for the council were protecting residents from any possible inconvenience from indoor cultivation and keeping such facilities far away from schoolhouses and other youth-oriented service providers, Gendron said.
The proposed measure also includes the following provisions:
● Any structure that houses an indoor cultivation center would require a chain link fence at least six feet high about the perimeter.
● Grow houses must be equipped with a security system, subject to the approval of the building official and the public safety director, designed to deter the theft of marijuana. The system would require an alarm hard-wired to the police and fire departments.
● Cultivation facilities would require ventilation and filtration systems to prevent plant odors from escaping the structures in which they’re located to an extent that would “significantly alter” the outdoor environment.
The measure would also prohibit the use of butane, propane or other compressed gases to create products derived from raw marijuana by extracting the psychoactive ingredients from the plant. The measure also explicitly prohibits the retail sale of marijuana.
“For the avoidance of doubt,” the ordinance says, “only the growing or cultivation and marijuana to be sold/distributed to medical marijuana facilities such as Compassion Centers is allowed. The manufacture, production or processing or marijuana plants into medical or non-medical marijuana products or derivatives is strictly prohibited.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo