Concord to consider zoning for medical marijuana treatment centers

Last modified: 11/12/2014 1:44:10 AM
Concord will consider adding regulations to its zoning code for medical marijuana dispensaries.

New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana in 2013, and the law will allow four nonprofit dispensaries, or “alternative treatment centers,” across the state. State officials have until January to write the rules governing the centers that will grow cannabis and sell it to patients, and to license two of the four dispensaries.

City staff has drafted a proposed amendment to the zoning code to allow treatment centers only in industrial zones of Concord, and the city council quietly referred that item to the planning board as part of its consent agenda Monday night. Carlos Baia, the deputy city manager for development, said his office has received four or five inquiries from parties interested in opening a dispensary in Concord.

“We were looking at making our ordinances reflect what the state law is basically mandating for the area,” Baia said.

The council will eventually need to hold a public hearing and vote on any changes to the code. But in the meantime, Chairman Gerry Drypolcher said the planning board will consider Baia’s draft and make recommendations back to the council.

The planning board is not required to call a public hearing on the proposed changes, Drypolcher said, but it could.

“Ultimately, it goes to the city council because they are the determining group of people for changing zoning,” Drypolcher said. “But they have at this point asked us to do the nitty-gritty work, to come up with the legalese.”

As the draft zoning code is written, the city would allow three new uses in an industrial zone: an alternative treatment center for both cultivating and dispensing medical marijuana; a center only for cultivation; and a center only for distribution. An industrial district can currently include uses for manufacturing, research and development facilities, wholesaling, warehousing, distribution, and offices, according to the city’s zoning code. The code also requires adequate screening between an industrial district and adjacent neighborhoods.

Industrial zones are scattered through Concord, including some areas between Airport and Sheep Davis roads, a section near Locke Road in East Concord, a thin stretch along North State Street and some land near Interstate 93’s Exit 17.

State law prohibits a treatment center from opening in a residential district or within 1,000 feet of a school or designated drug-free property zone.

“Having it codified, it would be a little more black-and-white as to where these types of uses would be allowed or not,” Baia said.

Mayor Jim Bouley said he would consider the zoning changes as they move through the planning board and the city council, but he did not have further comment on locating a dispensary in Concord. While the city has received calls from interested parties, Baia said his staff has not solicited any treatment centers at this point.

“At this point, we are writing an ordinance that fits the city of Concord and our community,” Baia said.

Matt Simon, the New England political director and legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, said his major concern is that a treatment center would be accessible to its patients.

“Certainly, there needs to be one in the Merrimack Valley,” Simon said. “Somewhere in Concord is a pretty central location, so that would seem to be a reasonable spot.”

To Simon, the rule-making process to implement medical marijuana in New Hampshire has been too slow. He wanted patients to be able to grow their own plants, but a measure to allow that didn’t pass the Legislature this year. He also wanted patients to have immediate legal protection to use marijuana to ease their pain and other symptoms without fear of arrest, but New Hampshire won’t allow legal use until patients can buy their cannabis in the state.

But if the state can license two dispensaries by January, as promised, Simon said he can’t complain.

“As long as the actual dispensary location is accessible to patients, and patients feel safe going there, I’m probably going to be happy with this,” he said.

Simon said many communities are beginning to consider zoning regulations for medical marijuana, like Concord, but he doesn’t know any that have blocked it yet.

“There will likely be some towns where people decide they want to make it difficult or even impossible for people to operate,” Simon said. “I think there will be other towns – and I hope it’s a lot more towns – that will be open to medical marijuana.”

Dispensaries in New Hampshire would likely be “pretty low-key,” Simon said.

“Most people won’t realize there’s a dispensary in town,” Simon said. “Life will go on.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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