By Chris Maza|
GREATER SPRINGFIELD Local communities are trying to determine the best course of action regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.
Approved by nearly a 2-1 margin on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, Question 3 allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes provided that patients meet certain conditions.
With the yes vote, state-regulated centers will be allowed for the production and distribution of marijuana to those with a prescription.
Before such distribution centers can open, however, the state must finish drafting its regulations regarding their operation, forcing towns to decide what they want to do in the meantime.
"Right now we're waiting on the state. The regulations are due May 1, but we're not sure if they will be able to meet that deadline," Beverly Hirschhorn, health director for the town of Longmeadow, said.
Hirschhorn said once the regulations are complete, Boards of Health would have to review them and determine whether they are satisfactory for their communities.
"If we don't feel the state guidelines are sufficient, we can always make stricter regulations," she said, adding that several questions remain, including how the state will address the sale of food products containing marijuana.
Hirschhorn said that while health regulations are a major part of the conversation, whether cities and towns wish to have such establishments within their borders was a much more pressing issue.
"The state is allowing five dispensaries within each county. Some communities may not want to be a site for one of these," she said. "I know of many communities that are exploring zoning or other types of regulations to prevent these from moving in."
East Longmeadow is one such community.
At its Jan. 29 meeting, the Planning Board discussed the creation of a bylaw that would effectively make it impossible for a medical marijuana facility to exist in any district.
"Basically what this does is take the definition in state law and amends the bylaw to say that this is not allowed in any zoning in town. It's basically disallowed," Planning Board Chair George Kingston said.
Hirschhorn said the difficulty with this approach is that without Attorney General approval, there is no way to know whether or not the passage of such a bylaw would be legal.
Kingston said, "Our understanding is that a number of towns have already passed this either through their town meeting or their city council and that it has not either been approved or disapproved by the Attorney General. We're hoping by the time we go to town meeting, it will be approved by the Attorney General."
East Longmeadow Planning Director Robyn Macdonald told the board that Malden, Waltham and Sudbury were among the communities to pass similar bylaws.
"My own position on this is we don't want to be the first place in Western Massachusetts to have one of these. If it turns out that they're established and they turn out not to be a problem, we can always reconsider this in the future," Kingston said. "For the time being, we don't want to be the test case to find out if they are a public nuisance. There are probably other cities around here that are better equipped to deal with something like this than a small town like us."
Wilbraham Planning Director John Pearsall said that the Planning Board has discussed the matter, but has opted not to take any action on a new bylaw at this time.
"I think the general consensus was that we don't want to overreact to this. As of right now, we are aware of the new law and the fact that the state is going to be regulating this," he said. "I think the feeling right now is if one were to be proposed, it would require a special permit similar to a medical facility and it would be in the commercial district."
Pearsall said that in addition to moratoriums or bylaws disallowing medical marijuana dispensaries, he heard of communities that were looking into treating such establishments similarly to adult entertainment with separate regulations, such as rules regarding distance from schools.
Ultimately, he said he felt it was an issue most towns won't have to worry about.
"It's unlikely one would be located in Wilbraham," he said. "There are a limited number of these and I would think they would want to be more centrally located."
Longmeadow Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn indicated that his board was also taking a wait and see approach to the matter.
"The Planning Board briefly discussed the matter last Wednesday night [Feb. 6]. It was concluded that the Planning Board will take no action and will await language for a zoning bylaw change or moratorium from the Select Board, or Board of Health," he said.
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