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Voters to decide on temporary moratorium for medical marijuana treatment center

March 21, 2013
By Chris Maza


LONGMEADOW — Longmeadow residents may be asked to vote on whether or not the town should adopt a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers at the Annual Town Meeting on May 7.

Article 28 of the warrant calls for the amendment of the current zoning bylaw that would buy the town more time to adequately address planning concerns related to Chapter 94G of Massachusetts General Law.

The new state law, which was approved by voters during the Nov. 6, 2012 election, allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes provided that patients meet certain conditions and the establishment of state-regulated centers for the production and distribution of marijuana to those with a prescription.

The article would prevent the establishment of a marijuana treatment center in town until June 30, 2014.

The town of Wakefield recently voted to ban medical marijuana facilities outright, but on March 13, Attorney General Martha Coakley's office announced she ruled that total bans on the establishments were not legal.

She determined that a prohibition on medical marijuana facilities "conflicted with the statute passed by ballot petition in 2012 that ensures reasonable access to marijuana treatment centers," according to a press release from Coakley's office.

"It would be one thing to ban massage parlors. It is possible to have the town vote to ban something like that, but you can't do that with marijuana dispensaries with this new law," Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn told Reminder Publications.

Coakley, however, said that temporary moratoriums would be allowed after she approved the bylaw presented to her office by officials of the town of Burlington.

Gunn said a temporary moratorium would allow the town adequate time to determine how it should handle the zoning on medical marijuana dispensaries.

"Longmeadow has to permit their business use," he said. "The town has to find and determine a suitable zone for these shops and every town in the Commonwealth will have to do this as well. This article, if passed, would buy us time."

Gunn admitted at this point he didn't know what measure would be taken by the town in order to define the proper zoning.

"We're probably going to have to create a new zone," he said.

The article defines a medical marijuana treatment center as a "not-for-profit entity, as defined by Massachusetts law only, registered by the Department of Public Health, that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes (including development of related products such as food, tinctures, aerosols, oils or ointments), transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials to qualifying patients or their personal caregivers."

According to Chapter 94G, marijuana prescriptions may be written to treat a "debilitating medical condition." Included in the definition of a "debilitating medical condition" are cancer, glaucoma, HIV and/or AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, nail patella syndrome and post traumatic stress disorder.

Complete regulations that would allow the purchase and use of medical marijuana are still being developed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The state has a target of May 1 to complete the regulations, however, Interim Deputy Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett recently stated that the earliest the regulations would go into effect would be May 24.

She said that a draft would be presented to Secretary of State William Galvin's office later this month.

"On March 29, the [DPH] will be filing draft regulations with the Secretary of State. On that day, we will also be sending the draft regulations to each of you for review, as well as posting them publicly on the Department's website — this will mark the beginning of our official public comment period as well," Bartlett said in a statement to the Public Health Council posted on the DPH website.

A presentation by the DPH to the Public Health Council will take place on April 10, followed by a public hearing on April 19. On April 20, the public comment period will end.

The DPH will go before the Public Health Council again at the regularly scheduled May 8 meeting at which time a vote will be taken. If approved, the regulations would go into effect on May 24.

"This process reflects our thoughtful approach to reviewing key decision points, our examination of the 17 states with either implemented medical marijuana programs or draft regulations, and our synthesis of stakeholder feedback — all while ensuring that the [DPH] complies with and responds to the clear voter mandate," Bartlett said.

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