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Town Meeting approves marijuana center moratorium

Date: 5/2/2013

By Chris Maza

HAMPDEN — At the Annual Town Meeting on April 29, residents approved a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers.

The vote allows the town to add language to the zoning bylaws temporarily designating such dispensaries as an unlawful land use in the town.

"This is not approving, nor denying medical marijuana," Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth said. "All this [does] is give us a one-year moratorium to review rules and regulations that have not yet been published by the state."

On March 13, Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that outright bans on medical marijuana facilities were not permissible because they "conflicted with the statute passed by ballot petition in 2012 that ensures reasonable access to marijuana treatment centers," according to a press release from Coakley's office. However, she decided to allow temporary moratoriums after Burlington presented her with their proposed bylaw amendment.

While the medical marijuana law took effect on Jan. 1, the regulations governing medical marijuana dispensaries have yet to be approved. The Department of Public Health (DPH) Medical Marijuana Working Group submitted draft regulations to the Public Health Council on April 10.

Public hearings were hosted on April 19 and the public comment period expired on April 20. The DPH will appear before the Public Health Council to ask for approval of the regulations on May 8.

The proposed town budget of $10.9 million was also approved with no major objections. According to the Advisory Committee, the town is projected to have a surplus of approximately $8,000 and would not be required to dip into the town's reserve fund, which stands at roughly $800,000.

Residents also approved the purchase of 11 acres adjacent to Hampden Memorial Park contingent on the town receiving a grant from the state that has been requested by the Minnechaug Land Trust. Town officials said $42,000 in Community Preservation Act funds would be used and The remaining money for the land purchase, equaling $64,000, would be funded through short-term borrowing.

Two other Community Preservation Commission expenditures were approved $22,000 to complete the stream bank restoration project at Memorial Park; and $250 for the payment of the Community Preservation Coalition membership.

Residents also approved $2 million in borrowing for road and drainage projects. The borrowing was also approved through a debt exclusion override question on the April 30 town election ballot.

Board of Selectmen Chair John Flynn said this is phase two of an overall improvement strategy that started with an infrastructure bond five years ago.

"We're replacing a bond with another bond," he said. "It's like buying another car. You had a loan for the car, but when you get another car, you get another loan. This is what we feel gives us the best bang for the buck."

Resident Connie Witt voiced uneasiness with borrowing a large sum of money without an itemized list of roads, asserting that the last time money was borrowed for roads, she was led to believe the town would install new culverts to relieve the flooding problems on Main Street, but it never happened.

Flynn responded, "You don't want absolutes," explaining that the roads are assessed regularly and flexibility is needed in case a road not originally in the plans needs repair.

Dana Pixley, highway superintendent, said the $2 million would help protect the town's previous investments in roads in addition to upgrading roads that have not yet been addressed.