DRACUT -- The Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 Tuesday to authorize Town Manager Jim Duggan to hire special town counsel on cannabis projects in the future if necessary. Selectman Tami Dristiliaris was absent.
"He now has the pre-approved authority to hire one should a situation arise where we need a specialist," Selectmen Chairwoman Alison Hughes said Wednesday about granting Duggan the permission.
Hughes added that a special town counsel would only be hired if Town Counsel James A. Hall felt a subject matter regarding cannabis was outside his comfort zone. It is unclear how much this special town counsel would cost the town if hired.
The vote follows a discussion held between officials a few weeks ago on marijuana laws pertaining to Dracut.
Citing July 1 as the day in which adult-use cannabis retail sales in Massachusetts will become legal, Duggan at the March 27 BOS meeting said he felt it was in the best interest to understand the town's direction.
"I will tell you, if nothing is done, July 1 -- it's good to go," Duggan said at the time of cannabis retail sales being allowed around town, in any location. "If the board opts to say 'We will not do anything with retail in the community,' then it has to go to the ballot in November in order for a formal vote by the residents of Dracut.
Town Meeting last fall rejected a retail marijuana moratorium. Article 22, which was opposed by 102 residents, looked to implement a temporary moratorium on retail marijuana sales in town. In favor were 92 residents. According to the warrant, the moratorium would have included dispensing, processing, and cultivation activities and other related activities to the sale, storage and distribution or marijuana for non-medical use and the operation of a marijuana establishment for non-medical use.
"Anything that can help us in the future is beneficial to have a specialized counsel on recreational marijuana. It's certainly beneficial to the town," said Selectman Jesse Forcier on Wednesday.
Forcier was one of several who spoke in opposition to the moratorium during last fall's Town Meeting. On Wednesday the selectman said the Board of Selectmen is very cognizant of those residents who are opposed to retail marijuana being introduced to Dracut.
"That's why we're going to steer any of the industry to the I-1 zone," Forcier said of the town's industrial 1 zone. "We understand the residents' concerns and that's why we want to put it in an area where there's few residential homes that will be affected, but we can still benefit from the industry economically."
There are four sections of I-1 zone, plus the two mills at 76 Pleasant St. and 101 Mill St., according to Building Inspector Dan McLaughlin. The mills also have a mill overlay district which allows redevelopment for other uses, such as residential, etc., McLaughlin wrote Wednesday in an email to a Sun reporter.
In other business, the Board of Selectmen unanimously approved funding for an operational audit to be done on Dracut Public Schools. "We're going to bring a warrant article for a figure not to exceed $72,500 and, if that passes at Town Meeting, to put out an RFP (issued by the School Committee) and do that audit," Forcier said Wednesday. "The audit is strictly operational... it's strictly going to see if we can identify any operational deficiencies where we could potentially save money and ultimately help the schools out."
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