PLYMPTON– In a surprise move, on Monday, April 25 Plympton Selectmen voted unanimously to put on hold a decision on writing a municipal letter of support, non-opposition, or opposition for a proposed medical marijuana grow facility that was to be located at a cranberry farm on Ring Road, until a bill before the state legislature settles the matter of whether a zoning exemption, known as Chapter 40A(3) applies to marijuana or not.
The exemption would allow the grow facility in an agricultural/residential zone, according to Plympton’s bylaws, if the facility is in fact applicable for relief under 40A(3). But the bylaws do not allow medical marijuana to be grown in agricultural/residential zones unless the facility meets the requirements for the exemption.
Chapter 40A(3) is a law, also known as the Dover Amendment, which prevents municipalities from interfering with a broad range of certain activities, and to some extent, in this case, agriculture. The bill, H. 4186, is moving its way through the legislative process, and would exclude marijuana from the 40A(3) exemption.
As there is no accurate way to predict what will happen to a bill as it makes its way through the legislative process; the bill may take some time to become law, conceivably years, if ever.
The letter of support, non-opposition or opposition is the first step in the process of participating on the production side of the medical marijuana regime overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Applicant Jeffrey Randall first came before the Board of Selectmen on January 4, 2016 with a detailed proposal. It is within the full purview of the BOS to make this decision, according to town counsel.
The Board appeared to tacitly support the proposal that night. Selectperson Christine Joy, said she was “personally uncomfortable” and “not a huge fan”, but said that if the townspeople supported it, she would support it. Selectperson Colleen Thompson said she was “not opposed”, but not sure if she would lean more towards a letter of non-opposition or support. Board Chairman Mark Russo was enthusiastically supportive.
As abutters and neighbors learned of the proposal, opposition in town quickly grew. Although Selectmen Russo and Thompson both stated at numerous meetings that there were many in town who supported the proposal, a vocal group opposed formed and began to appear weekly at each board meeting.
Joy quickly seemed to ally herself with those opposed to the proposal, and often spoke out against the grow facility. Thompson repeatedly stated that she was staying open-minded and listening to citizens regarding the application, and Russo remained the voice of enthusiasm for the proposal. The BOS maintained those positions unwaveringly over months.
Board Chairman Russo spoke out against the tactics of those opposed to the proposal and seemed especially frustrated at a recent Public Records Request for some 14 months of his e-mails, written correspondence and meeting notes between himself and Jeff Randall, Randall’s attorney, business partners, associates as well as any emails, written correspondence or meeting notes that mention “marijuana, marihuana or cannabis”.
The request resulted in Russo turning over more than 600 pages of printed material.
The issue has split the town, Russo said on Monday night, and he thought he had enough information to make a decision right then. Saying that the subject was way too divisive right now, and Thompson noting that she wanted some peace, saying it was a motion he hated to make, Chairman Russo moved that the board delay its vote until the bill before the legislature had clarified the zoning issues. Thompson seconded the motion, and the board unanimously put the application on hold.
Randall, his wife and his attorney left the room quickly.