The Westerly Sun

RICHMOND — The Town Council passed two zoning amendments on Tuesday, one restricting commercial growers to five zoning districts and the second effectively prohibiting compassion centers.

Anticipating the eventual legalization of recreational marijuana in Rhode Island, as has happened in Massachusetts, council members discussed at length what they wanted for their town. 

Three centers are selling medical marijuana in Rhode Island, but none in the southern part of the state. The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation is expected to allow several more to open in the near future.

Attorney Russel Jackson, who represents Coastal Farms LLC, a marijuana growing facility on Route 138, said his client hoped to eventually be allowed to open a compassion center.

“The lot that my clients developed is a 5-acre parcel with direct access to Route 138,” he said. “It’s got a state-of-the-art greenhouse in terms of its growing capability and security. It’s set off the road…The layout and design of that was done intentionally so they would at least have the opportunity in the future, if compassion centers were made available again by the state, they could look to apply for a compassion center.”

Jackson suggested that the town require special use permits for compassion centers, which would add another layer of scrutiny to the application process.

Councilors Nell Carpenter and Mark Trimmer said a compassion center was needed in South County, because Richmond residents now have to drive to Warwick to procure medical marijuana.

“I think that having a medical marijuana facility in town or in the area is a necessity,” Trimmer said. 

Trimmer also noted, however, that he was concerned that compassion centers could eventually become recreational marijuana retail businesses.

Council President Richard Nassaney read the last paragraph of a Feb. 11 letter from Police Chief Elwood Johnson to Town Planner Shaun Lacey, which cited traffic congestion and other problems generated by compassion centers and recreational marijuana stores.

“The growth of the medical marijuana industry nationally, regionally and locally over the last 10 years, in addition to legalization in some states, had led to an increase in youth access to the most potent forms of marijuana and THC content some of us in law enforcement have ever seen,” Johnson wrote. “Several communities in Massachusetts experienced traffic gridlock and an overwhelming volume of transient visits when the first retail marijuana shops opened in late 2018.”

On the recommendation of Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, the council adopted two zoning amendments. The first amends the zoning ordinance regulating cultivation to add a use code that defines the commercial cultivation of marijuana and permits cultivation in five zones: general business, light industrial, industrial, planned unit development village center, and flex tech.

The second amendment effectively prohibits medical marijuana sales centers in every district.

“The second motion would be to create a use code for compassion centers, but prohibit the use in all zoning districts,” Ellsworth said.

Both amendments passed unanimously.

Nassaney said he was uneasy about the impact compassion centers might have on the town and said he felt obliged to err on the side of caution.

“I’ve got to find a way to protect the people of this town, not for this year, not for two years from now but 10 years from now, and I’m trying to look into that real foggy crystal ball that’s sitting in front of me,” he said.


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