NEW BEDFORD — The New Bedford City Council's Committee on Ordinances unanimously voted on Monday night to pass the zoning ordinance for potential retail and medical marijuana dispensaries in the city to the full City Council for a second reading.

“We have taken the next step forward in the process. All ordinances have to be passed to a second reading in order to be ordained,” said Councillor At-Large Ian Abreu, also the Chairman of the Cannabis Committee. “We had a long meeting tonight and we had a lot of input from various stakeholders in the community. We got to hear a lot of various viewpoints. We took those into consideration in going forward with our final vote tonight.”

While the Committee approved the zoning ordinance for a second reading, Councillors did make one minor amendment regarding the location of pot shops to churches located inside of cemeteries. Abreu says that churches were listed in the ordinance as warranting a buffer zone, meaning that a marijuana dispensary couldn't be located within 500 feet of a church.

One proposed site for a dispensary is located off of King's Highway in a large setback lot next to the rail road tracks and behind the Brodeur & Sons Heating and Air Conditioning building. The site is in a listed 'Industrial B Zone', a permitted location for such an establishment in the zoning ordinance for marijuana developed by the Council. The building is currently owned by Park Plaza N.B. LLC.

Abreu explains that the ordinance included churches and chapels inside of cemeteries, and that the location of the proposed site off of Kings Highway, for example, could have conflicted with the buffer zone of the church at Sacred Heart Cemetery. He says the Committee voted to remove the language of 'a chapel or a church inside of a cemetery' of to allow for potential investment if the area near a cemetery is an industrial zone.

Ward Three Councillor Hugh Dunn called the ordinance is “far from perfect”, saying that it could potentially delay the industry's start in New Bedford. Dunn argues that the current zoning ordinance makes it too difficult for potential dispensaries that are considering opening up in the city.

“I worry that the buffer zones are so extensive that it will make it hard for these businesses to find location. When you look at the maps of the city of where they're able to locate, it's not exactly clear,” Dunn said. “If this can't be cited in a way that's legal for the city than it just feeds the black market. I think our goal should be to have this done in a way that defeats that black market and brings as much revenue into the city as possible.”

If the zoning ordinance makes it past the second reading by the full City Council it must be signed by Mayor Jon Mitchell before dispensaries can officially be permitted for operation.

The City of New Bedford has a moratorium on marijuana sales in place until September 30.