By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The city is expected to lift its temporary ban on marijuana dispensaries as soon as next week, and is considering a proposal that would allow them in the Hale Street industrial area just outside Lafayette Square or the Ward Hill Business Park in Bradford.
At least two applicants for medical marijuana facilities in the area are targeting Haverhill — the Cardiac Arrhythmia Syndromes Foundation based in Andover and Creative Botanical Development, according to state applications for dispensary licenses that are being made available in Essex County.
In recent months, the City Council has passed a series of moratoriums on marijuana centers while officials and a committee formed by Mayor James Fiorentini develop a proposal that would limit them to specific areas of the city.
The latest moratorium was set to expire yesterday, but the council voted last night to continue it for another week while the city fine tunes the zoning plan.
Fiorentini said he expects the council to remove the moratorium and vote on the zoning Nov. 19.
While the current draft says no centers would be allowed within 1,500 feet of a school or home, the mayor said he expects the buffer zone will be reduced to 500 feet. He said 1,500 feet would preclude most if not all property in the Hale Street industrial area.
The use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts was approved by 63 percent of voters last year. 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.
Earlier this year, state Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that communities cannot prohibit dispensaries from opening within their borders, but can regulate where they are allowed.
The state Department of Public Health, which is reviewing applications and will issue certificates, announced Sept. 23 that 154 of the 181 initial applicants were invited to phase two. Eighteen applicants filed for locations in Essex County, and 16 of those were invited to phase two.
State health officials have said they will weigh a number of factors when deciding which applications to approve, including proximity to other dispensaries to avoid clustering.