By Nick Kotsopoulos
Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER - The City Council has given initial approval to a series of regulations governing the siting of adult-use marijuana establishments.
The council voted Tuesday night to advertise the new rules. The item will be back before the council for a final vote on June 26, according to City Clerk Susan M. Ledoux.
Under state law, Worcester is required to provide for establishment of up to 15 retail marijuana stores. That figure is based on 20 percent of the number of off-premises alcohol licenses the city is authorized to issue.
Private clubs that allow on-site consumption but not sale of marijuana do not count toward Worcester’s quota of 15 retail stores.
Also, there is no limit on the number of other marijuana-related businesses that do not have points of sale with the public, such as marijuana cultivators, independent testing laboratories, product manufacturers, research facilities, transporters and micro-businesses.
Municipalities are allowed to establish local ordinances and licensing regulations to control where marijuana establishments can locate, but they cannot be unreasonably impractical. In Worcester’s case, the city has to provide sufficient opportunity for location of those 15 retail establishments.
City councilors have been insistent, however, that the city have rules in place to prohibit saturation of adult-use marijuana establishments in any single part of Worcester.
The regulations would ban adult-use retail marijuana stores, cultivators, manufacturers and other related businesses from all residential-zoned areas.
They would also be precluded from being within 500 feet of a public or private school, public park, playground, licensed day care center or public library.
Adult-use marijuana businesses would be allowed by special permit from the Planning Board in areas zoned for manufacturing and business uses, as well as in Institutional-Hospital zones and in the airport zone, which includes the industrial park next to Worcester Regional Airport.
The regulations also call for a 500-foot buffer – roughly the length of two city blocks – between the locations of marijuana retail stores to prevent them from clustering in certain parts of the city.
But the buffer would not pertain to businesses that do not operate as storefronts, such as product manufacturers, cultivators, testing labs and research facilities. They would be able to locate within 500 feet of a marijuana retail store.
In addition, small-scale marijuana product manufacturing, not to exceed 5,000 square feet in size, and micro-businesses in business-general zones would be allowed by special permit.
Jim McManus, a spokesman for Good Chemistry, said the company is pleased with the City Council’s decision to allow cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities in Worcester.
Pending final approvals, Good Chemistry is preparing to open a medical marijuana dispensary at 9 Harrison St. in the Canal District in early August, to serve patients who have a medical cannabis card, he said.
“This is a step closer to adult-use stores opening in the community, but a long process still remains and we plan to apply for an adult-use license later this year as the process evolves,” Mr. McManus said.
“We are a well respected, established company with a strong track record of compliance with state and local regulations,” he added. “We chose Worcester to pursue our first medical and adult-use facilities in Massachusetts because we have family roots there, a firsthand knowledge of and a deep respect and appreciation for the city.”
Businesses that receive a license from the state Cannabis Control Commission will be allowed to open on July 1.