Fight looms over zoning for marijuana cultivators, center

Posted 10/15/20

By JOHN HOWELL With little notice, a battle is shaping up over an ordinance that would regulate the location of compassion centers and marijuana cultivating operations in the city. Presently the city has one of three compassion centers in the state and

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Fight looms over zoning for marijuana cultivators, center


With little notice, a battle is shaping up over an ordinance that would regulate the location of compassion centers and marijuana cultivating operations in the city. Presently the city has one of three compassion centers in the state and between 25 and 30 cultivation facilities based on data provided by the city and Kelsey Green LLC that is opposed to the ordinance introduced by Ward 3 Councilman Tim Howe on grounds that the city cannot ban new compassion centers or licensed medical marijuana cultivators.

The ordinance was scheduled for review by the Planning Board last night and is on the docket for first passage by the City Council on Monday.

Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur quickly labeled the ordinance as an administrative effort to push through legislation before the election. He noted that accepted procedure is for the Planning Board to consider a matter before it is placed on the council agenda.

Howe had an explanation. He said he was prepared to docket the ordinance in September, but part way through the meeting, the council solicitor ruled that because the telephone numbers advertised for public comment were not working, the meeting did not meet open meeting guidelines.

Howe said he is looking for feedback concerning the state action to divide the state into six zones for the licensing of marijuana compassion centers. Warwick is in a zone that includes Cranston, East Greenwich and North Kingstown. Each of the zones would get a compassion center, meaning that depending on the selection of the licensee and their proposed plan, Warwick could end up with two compassion centers.

Howe was not prepared to say whether Warwick should have another center…that should be up to Warwick, but he doesn’t want the city to miss out on an opportunity for increased business and he feels the city should be prepared when the state gets down to licensing a center.

Asked where he stood on the ordinance, Mayor Joseph J. Solomon said Wednesday he had not had the chance to review the ordinance and he was not prepared to comment.

In a 7-page document, the city Planning Department outlines the history of the medical marijuana cultivation and distribution, compassion centers, legislation as the financial impact on the city. The department estimates the city receives $150,000 a year in tangible taxes from growers and sellers in Warwick that is projected to increase by $80,000 when the city’s largest licensed facility is completed next year.

The document further notes that the ordinance, which would prohibit any new compassion centers or cultivation facilities in any use zone is inconsistent with the current comprehensive plan. In its conclusion the department says: “The explosive growth in the marijuana industry clearly necessitates the need for the City of Warwick to amend the zoning ordinance to better define and manage land uses related to marijuana cultivation and distribution moving forward. The Planning Department therefore recognizes the significant value the proposed amendment provides in updating the current zoning ordinance to clarify land uses related to the medical marijuana industry, including definitions that are aligned with the Hawkins-Slater Act, as well as defining zoning districts related to medical marijuana cultivation and distribution.

However, we find that the current amendment, as written, is generally inconsistent with the City ’s Comprehensive Plan, and inconsistent with current permitting policies and practices implemented by the City ’s Building Official, due the proposed preclusion of compassion centers and licensed medical marijuana facilities in all zoning districts. We are also concerned that the current proposal, as written, would stifle future expansion of this high growth industry in Warwick, limit the expansion and relocation of current medical marijuana cultivation and distribution operators, limit the diversity of our industrial uses and occupancy of industrial zones, and restrict growth in the City ’s commercial tax base.

Presented with the aforementioned facts and findings the Department can only find comprehensive plan consistency, and subsequent positive recommendation to the City Council, for passage of the proposed ordinance with amendments.”

The amendments, if approved would allow compassion centers and cultivators in light industry and general industry zones and would prohibit a medical marijuana emporium by right in all zones.

In a four-page letter to members of the City Council attorney Michael Kelly of KSR&P Attorneys at Law, representing Kelsey Green, LLC terms the ordinance “an attack on and improper attempt to wade into the area of licensing, which is now and has always been, within the sole purview of the General Assembly.” In addition, he charges the ordinance would create a “clear monopoly in favor of Summit (the compassion center in Warwick).”

He appeals to the council and the planning board “To listen to the community of medical marijuana patients, as well as some 30 cultivation licensees that presently cultivate marijuana within the City of Warwick.”

He writes they have invested millions of dollars into their facilities “with the hope of obtaining a Compassion Center License.”

In a statement Alex Lavin, CEO of Growth Industries of New England writes: 

“Councilman Howe must not have read his own ordinance.  If he had, he would see quite clearly that it limits the number of dispensaries in Warwick to one, creating a  monopoly for the current dispensary.  By eliminating consumer choice in this way, the proposal will have an adverse effect on patient safety, quality and price.  The City would also miss out on added tax revenue.

If the councilman is really interested in a conversation about helping businesses grow, he would withdraw the ordinance immediately and begin that conversation with local patients, consumers and the effected businesses.”

marijuana, zoning


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