Bristol proposal takes aim at recreational marijuana stores

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Bristol official wants to prevent marijuana stores from cropping up like liquor stores in his town, before they’re even legal in Rhode Island.

Town Council Chairman Nathan Calouro said he wants to change the town’s zoning regulations to limit where recreational marijuana stores and cultivation centers may open. He’s also proposing special use permits that require a public hearing.

The measure’s zoning changes would also apply to dispensaries for medical marijuana, which is legal in the state.

A proposed bill to end Rhode Island’s ban on recreational marijuana failed this year. Proponents have said they’ll try again.

Calouro and Dan Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, didn’t know of any other Rhode Island municipality taking similar pre-emptive steps. State business regulators didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If marijuana businesses eventually open in Rhode Island, Calouro said, he wants Bristol to be “really low” on their list of potential locations and he wants to figure out how to handle an application for a new business before the applicant is in front of them.

He said he’s worried about how these stores could affect the community and possibly increase the cost of police services if the department had to step up patrols near them.

“I want to make Bristol very difficult and potentially unattractive, but not unattainable, for this,” Calouro, a Democrat, said Friday.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Rhode Island since 2006, and three medical marijuana dispensaries, or compassion centers, are operating in the state.

Calouro’s proposed zoning changes would apply to compassion centers in case the state ever allows more centers. He said he is not looking to, nor would he have the power to, regulate an individual’s use of recreational or medical marijuana.

Colorado lawmakers gave counties and municipalities the ability to prohibit the stores when the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, by requiring both a state and local license for them to open, said Ali Maffey, the retail marijuana education program manager in Colorado’s health department.

In Washington state, which also legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, municipalities have passed zoning or broad city regulations to limit marijuana businesses, similar to what Bristol is considering, said Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Activists in Rhode Island pitched the idea of a system to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol as a way to create hundreds of jobs in the state and bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo hasn’t ruled that out, but Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Friday that legalization isn’t on his agenda right now.

The town council discussed the proposal at a meeting Wednesday and decided to hold a workshop to get comments from other interested groups. If it passes the council, it could become law this fall.

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