Subcommittee Looks at Potential for Cannabis Sales in City

By Adam Swift

City officials are beginning preliminary steps to create zoning that would allow for recreational marijuana sales in the city, but at least one city councilor wants to ensure that there is plenty of feedback and outreach to residents before that becomes a reality.

At Monday night’s city council economic development subcommittee meeting, members discussed Councilor-at-Large Marc Silvestri’s motion calling for a preliminary discussion on zoning for potential cannabis dispensaries in the city.

When the state referendum on recreational marijuana sales passed in 2016, voters in Revere voted against the referendum. This result gave the city council at the time the right to vote against allowing recreational sales in the city.

With the passage of nearly a decade since the bill became law, Silvestri said now is the time for Revere to reconsider allowing marijuana sales.

“We’ve had the time to sit back and work out all the fears of everything that people were worried about,” said Silvestri. “We got to see the (state) cannabis commission work from the state level on down and work out all the kinks, and now I think it’s time that our city takes advantage of those benefits.”

Silvestri noted that other cities have typically issued a number of licenses based on a percentage of the package store licenses in the community.

Using that yardstick, Silvestri said Revere could issue three cannabis sales licenses. There is one grandfathered license that was issued nearly a decade ago on Railroad Avenue, but there have been years of delays in getting that facility open.

Silvestri said the city would also have to look at which zones the facilities would be allowed in. He said there are at least two other potential locations in the city for dispensaries that have the backing of the ward councilors if Revere were to allow marijuana licenses to be issued.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Tom Skwierawski held a similar position in Fitchburg when that city opened up marijuana dispensary and production licenses.

If Revere does move forward with marijuana sales, Skwierawski said the city will have to determine how many licenses it wants to issue, as well as if the sales should be by-right in certain zoning districts or an overlay district.

The city would also have to take into account issues such as buffer zones between the facilities and schools and other locations, as well as public safety concerns.

“I think you will find that if you are working with a strong applicant, they will have that all tied up and they will have a good security team,” said Skwierawski. “With all of the growth in the industry, ultimately, on the ground, it operates like any other store would. I think there was a bit of doom and gloom in the beginning about what might happen in this industry, but if you do it right, if you put the right guardrails in place and ask the right questions and get the right types of developers, I think it will fit in well in the city.”

Council President Anthony Cogliandro asked about the traffic when the dispensaries opened in Fitchburg, as well as the financial benefit the facilities had for that city.

While traffic was initially heavy, Skwierawski said there were police details and other plans in place to handle the rush. Once more locations opened up, he said that traffic has been less of an issue at dispensaries.

As for the financial benefits, Skwierawski said the cannabis revenue did help the city take on some more aggressive planning for infrastructure and other projects in Fitchburg.

Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna said she voted against allowing recreational marijuana licenses in Revere nine years ago, but said much has changed over the past decade. She said there are benefits to the business, and that allowing them now could benefit Revere.

Silvestri said that if Revere does move forward with cannabis licenses, he would like to see one of the issued licenses be for a social equity business. He said he would also like to see the city establish a commission made of councilors, planning personnel, and licensing commission members to further explore the potential for issuing the licenses.

“I don’t think I would be a proponent or in support of this, but what I do think would be very important is that if we were going to go in this direction, I would like to see a lot of feedback from the community,” said Councillor-at-Large Michelle Kelley.

Kelley said the city needs feedback from all of its residents, and not just those who will be near the potential zoning districts where it would be allowed. She also said that there are a number of dispensaries already in operation near Revere in Saugus, Chelsea, and Lynn.

“I would want to see strong evidence in terms of the revenue and what kind of benefit it would bring to the city before we sign onto this,” Kelley said.

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