By Amaris Castillo

Selectmen voted 4-0 last week 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.

Hughes said a special town counsel would only be hired if Town Counsel James A. Hall feels a subject matter regarding cannabis is outside his comfort zone. It's unclear how much a special town counsel would cost the town.

The vote follows a discussion held between officials a few weeks ago on marijuana laws pertaining to Dracut. A bylaw is currently being drafted on the subject for consideration at Town Meeting in June.

Citing July 1 as the day in which adult-use cannabis retail sales in Massachusetts will become legal, Duggan at the March 27 selectmen's 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.


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However, we will recommend that we could limit it to either a B-4 zone or an I-1 -- an industrial zone for the retail establishments and incorporate that into proposed bylaws as we move forward."

Town Meeting last fall rejected a moratorium on retail marijuana. Article 22, which was opposed by 102 residents, looked to implement a temporary moratorium on retail marijuana sales in town, with 92 in favor. 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 nonmedical use and the operation of a marijuana establishment for nonmedical use.

"Anything that can help us in the future is beneficial to have a specialized counsel on recreational marijuana," Selectman Jesse Forcier said after last week's vote. "It's certainly beneficial to the town."

Forcier was one of several who spoke in opposition of the moratorium during Town Meeting last fall. Last week, selectman said they are 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 that allows redevelopment for other uses, such as residential, etc., McLaughlin wrote last week in an email.

In other business, selectmen unanimously approved funding for an operational audit to be done on Dracut Public Schools. Forcier said the board will bring a warrant article for a cost not to exceed $72,500 and, if it passes Town Meeting, to put out a request for proposals, issued by the School Committee, for a company to do the audit.

"The audit is strictly operational," Forcier said, adding that "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."

Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is acastillo@lowellsun.com.