Councilors Eric Buddington and Benjamin Lamb as Lamb reads into the record the Public Safety Committee's language for regulating public consumption for marijuana.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council gave final approval on Tuesday to the retail marijuana ordinance and to two related ordinances, with the caveat that at least two of these may see some amendments in the near future.
The process took over an hour as the council tried — but somewhat failed — to stay out the "quagmire" as it again debated amendments of amendments and briefly mulled reopening the lengthy full ordinance passed two weeks ago to consider medical marijuana.
"It was an imperfect, it was as Councilor [Wayne] Wilkinson noted, a confusing process. I would, however, submit, that it was an exemplary process that we followed," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, crediting the work of Community Development Director Larysa Bernstein, the working group, the council and the community. "I apologize for the confusion created by a state process that moved in a parallel but slightly asynchronous track to the one that we were following."
Bernard has been pushing to have the ordinance completed and on the books by April 1, when the state will begin accepting applications for marijuana facilities. But last week, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission forwarded 11 potential amendments to the ordinance specifically to address medical marijuana.
"It was kind of thought medical [marijuana] would be going away because who would open up a medical business to sell to only people who have prescriptions," said Chris Gruba of BRPC, who helped in facilitating the ordinance. "There is this ambiguity over whether it will be or not. ... I would hate for the situation to happen where the city had this recreational ordinance in place that's airtight and then somebody approaches the city to do a medical."
He said the concern was there would be a loophole that did not address the 2012 legalization of medical marijuana.
Bernard said the city solicitor's advice was to pass the ordinance's second reading and then amend it later if necessary.
The council agreed and passed the ordinance faster than it had decided on letting Gruba speak and flirted with the idea of discussing the amendments.
Council President Keith Bona thought the council should move forward with the ordinance, feeling that opening up discussion on any amendments would be confusing at this point.
"Those amendments are not what we're currently voting on and they're not on the agenda," he said.
Councilor Eric Buddington, however, thought it important to hear what Gruba had to say. Councilor Benjamin Lamb noted Gruba was there now and available to speak, even if they asked him to another meeting.
Wilkinson moved the question in an attempt cut off debate but only Councilor Jason LaForest joined him.
"A good basic overview wouldn't hurt," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin.
On the ordinance related to public consumption of marijuana, the Public Safety Committee proposed some amended language to the original submitted by the mayor. The language, the committee thought, better aligned the ordinance to prohibitions on smoking and alcohol.
Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, in an email to the committee, suggested changing a reference from "smoking tobacco" to "tobacco consumption." A motion was made to amend the amended language.
Harpin thought that too vague because people might not equate consumption with smoking. Budding said he didn't like long lists but agreed the ordinance might not be clear.
Harpin motioned and was seconded to amend Cozzaglio's recommendation to "where consumption, chewing or smoking of tobacco is prohibited." Then Councilor Rebbecca Cohen motioned to streamline it by taking out smoking and chewing, but that motion failed when only Wilkinson and LaForest voted in favor.
At that point, LaForest warned they were getting into a quagmire again similar to the multiple amendments made on the main ordinance two weeks ago.
"It doesn't make sense to keep beating this thing to death," said resident Robert Cardimino, saying the ordinances can always be amended. "Down the road, you're going to find out you didn't cover all the bases and that's when you're going have to close them."
Harpin's amendment also failed, bringing everything back to the mayor's original language.
Buddington moved and was seconded that the original language be replaced by that brought forward by Public Safety Committee. Wilkinson then motioned that Cozzaglio's suggested words of "tobacco consumption" be used.
"I know it's been very confusing," Wilkinson said. "The original ordinance was pretty good and we now have the police director asking for one little change and I think we should acknowledge that."
Both motions passed. Lamb noted that the city solicitor would be reviewing the language before final approval. A third ordinance, setting a 3 percent local tax on gross marijuana sales, passed without discussion.
In other business, the council also took by eminent domain two lots that make up the old City Yard on Ashland Street. Solicitor John DeRosa explained that it was a procedural matter, or confirmatory taking, to ensure a clean title when the lots are sold to Cumberland Farm.
He explained that it was clear that city owned the property, and had occupied it for at least 100 years, but no deed could be found to confirm. The measure passed unanimously 7-1, with Buddington voting no. He thought such takings should be done for a public purpose, which did not include selling to a developer.
The council also approved the submission of a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for Greylock School. The School Committee had approved the application earlier this month.
Correction: The vote on eminent domain has been corrected.
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