By Barbara Taormina
City officials are continuing to carefully craft an ordinance that will regulate marijuana businesses that hope to do business in Malden. This week, the City Council approved a proposal from Ward 3 Councillor John Matheson to cap the number of marijuana establishments in Malden at four. In addition to retail shops and medical marijuana centers, the City Council will also consider permits for businesses that grow marijuana, businesses that manufacture marijuana products and independent testing labs.
State law requires cities and towns that permit marijuana businesses to allow no fewer than 20 percent of the number of a community’s liquor licenses. Based on population, Malden can issue 24 liquor licenses. However, instead of going with no fewer than 20 percent of the city’s liquor licenses, Matheson proposed that marijuana establishments be limited to no more than 20 percent. His proposal, which was approved unanimously by the council, rounds the number down and sets a limit of four marijuana businesses.
“We are allowing a new industry to open up in our municipality, and it behooves us to proceed with caution,” he said.
Matheson acknowledged that, over time, Malden’s continued growth will require the city to extend the cap. “When the next census is taken, it will increase the city’s number of liquor licenses and, in all likelihood, increase the number of marijuana establishments,” he said.
The council also took steps to ensure that some of the revenue generated by local marijuana businesses be channeled toward public health issues, particularly substance abuse education and treatment programs.
In addition to a local 3 percent tax on sales, the city can also require marijuana businesses to pay up to an additional 3 percent in fees – meant to ease the impact of the new businesses on the community. The additional fees are set through the host community agreement the city will negotiate with each marijuana business that opens up shop in Malden.
During many of the Ordinance Committee’s meetings on marijuana, Ward 2 Councillor Paul Condon has insisted that revenue collected from the new businesses be specifically earmarked for public health programs aimed at substance abuse prevention. This week Condon and Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley, Ward 6 Councillor David Camell and Matheson proposed channeling all the money generated from marijuana business impact fees into a special fund reserved for public health expenses. And the councillors got some help from Mayor Gary Christenson, who wrote a letter in support of the proposal to Council President Debbie DeMaria.
“We are constantly attempting to find ways to expand our response to important public health matters such as substance abuse treatment/recovery and mental health issues,” wrote Christenson. “I believe there is no better opportunity to address these concerns than with the potential adoption of a marijuana ordinance.” Christenson added that some of the money should be used to support the opioid education program already being taught in city schools.
Councillors voted to send the public health fund proposal to the Ordinance Committee for review.
Next Tuesday, June 19, the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee will hold a joint public hearing on zoning regulations for marijuana establishments. The hearing, which is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at the Senior Center, will cover areas where marijuana businesses can operate, special permit requirements, buffer zones, dimensional controls and parking.