WELLFLEET — Jason Robicheau has been struggling to get his recreational marijuana shop, the Grateful Mind, up and running at 15 Bank St. in Wellfleet’s central district for more than four years. In the time he’s been working through the state and local permitting process, three other recreational marijuana retailers have opened in town. The select board has set the maximum number allowed in town at four.
Robicheau’s frustration was showing during a June 8 special permit hearing before the zoning board of appeals. Although he requested the permit, he argued it’s not one he should need.
“It is worth noting that Wellfleet hasn’t written any zoning laws regarding recreational cannabis,” he said. “The town has written a policy, but there is no law to back it up.”
That fact has made the process confusing, Robicheau said. “It’s not my fault Wellfleet has a hole in its laws.”
ZBA chair Sharon Inger conceded that the town does not currently have a bylaw requiring recreational marijuana shops to get special permits but that the board’s past practice has required it.
“We have three retail cannabis stores already, and we have issued special permits for all three of them,” she said.
Robicheau had another request for the zoning board on June 8: an appeal of the determination by interim Building Commissioner Victor Staley that retail sales at 15 Bank St. had been discontinued for more than two years. That fact, Staley argued, triggered a requirement for a special permit for any new operation there.
Robicheau had previously operated Soul Market, a health food store, at the site. He argued that retail sales at that address, where there is also a jewelry store, had not been discontinued and therefore his marijuana shop would not represent a change of use.
Board member Manny Heyliger sided with Robicheau on that point. “I believe it wasn’t discontinued,” Heyliger said, “because he was working on the building and trying to get his permits situated.”
“To me, the only question is whether or not the retail business was abandoned,” said ZBA member Trevor Pontbriand. “And if it wasn’t, I don’t see why he can’t just pick up and start retail sales of any product, whether it’s socks, hedge clippers, or recreational marijuana.”
Inger had support for requiring a special permit from board member Jan Morrissey. While Morrissey disagreed with Staley’s interpretation that retail use at 15 Bank St. had been discontinued, she said, “All retail is not the same.” A small shop, she said, would not have the same traffic impact as a Cumberland Farms.
“You need to come before us for a special permit so we can see if you have sufficient parking for your employees and for the kind of traffic you’re going to have,” Morrissey said.
Furthermore, Morrissey said, the board’s experience with issuing permits for the other pot shops in town established that it is legal for the town to ask shop owners to obtain special permits. “You have to give us things on paper that we required other marijuana retailers to give to us,” she said.
Inger said she found she didn’t have enough information when she attempted to write up a list of possible findings for Robicheau’s operation. She said she wanted the board to have the same information they used to develop findings for the other three marijuana shops, including lot coverage, setbacks, the number of businesses on the property, signage, and the amount of parking available. “Another thing we’ve done in the conditions is set hours of operation,” Inger said.
Robicheau said the information the board wanted was in the host agreement with the town. When board member Andrew Freeman mentioned that the board should be provided with the shop’s security plan, Robicheau said the state monitors those plans.
Neighbors Charter and Randy Williams sent a letter opposing the issuance of a special permit, and Charter spoke at the ZBA meeting. Theirs was a “concern about the ability for a business like this to really change the dynamics of a very tiny little street,” he said.
Randy Williams noted there is a bus stop in front of 15 Bank St. “I think that the kids there waiting for the bus should not be subjected to whoever is coming and going out of a location like this.”
Ultimately, Inger suggested that Robicheau ask for a continuance on his permit request to allow him to put together the information the board requested in time for its June 22 meeting.
“We need those things for the town,” Inger said. If Robiceau didn’t agree, she said, he could turn to the courts.
“I am more than happy to provide you with all the information you’re requesting,” Robicheau said. “I’m not trying to fight an unwinnable battle.”