EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 7, 2013

Marijuana dispensary ban extended

Goal: Keep pot centers out of neighborhoods

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — The city has extended its temporary ban on marijuana dispensaries to mid-November.

City Council approved the extension at the request of Mayor James Fiorentini.

In August, a committee formed by the mayor recommended that medical marijuana dispensaries be limited to the city's business parks. The council then approved a moratorium prohibiting the dispensaries until Oct. 1, to give local officials time to fine tune the zoning proposal.

The latest extension to Nov. 12 is the result of the Planning Board's review of the proposed zoning measure.

Planning Director William Pillsbury said the board is concerned that some sections of the city's business parks are very close to residential areas.

Pillsbury said Planning Board members also had several ideas for improving the proposed rules for marijuana centers, such as ensuring the city would receive a payment in lieu of taxes if a nonprofit organization were to try to open a such a business in Haverhill.

"The board raised some cautions and had some ideas for making it better," Pillsbury said. "They sent the proposal back to the mayor's committee to take another look at it."

Pillsbury said the state is also continuing to tweak the rules governing the dispensaries, so it makes sense for the city to take its time with its local rules.

The use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts was approved by 63 percent of voters in November. In Haverhill, 60 percent of voters supported the measure, which removed criminal and civil penalties for medical marijuana use for people with certain medical conditions.

The new law provides for 35 nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers throughout the state, with no more than five in each county. The centers may grow, process and provide marijuana to patients who have a prescription from a doctor. The centers would be overseen by the state Department of Public Health.

Similar to pornography stores and even specific kinds of businesses and housing developments, cities and towns can regulate where medical marijuana dispensaries can be located, but they cannot ban them.

Fiorentini has said he sees it as unlikely that someone would try to open a marijuana center in Haverhill, because there can be only five in the county. But he also noted he has been contacted by a group that is scouting for locations.

The committee that made the zoning recommendation consists of Pillsbury, police Chief Alan DeNaro, Board of Health Chairman Dr. Carl Rosenbloom, City Solicitor William Cox and City Councilor William Ryan.