By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Haverhill is saying no to medical marijuana — at least until Oct. 1 at the soonest.
City Council passed the moratorium last night, banning medical marijuana dispensaries until that date. In the meantime, a committee appointed by Mayor James Fiorentini will determine where such a business should be located, should one try to open here.
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 patients with certain 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.
The council approved the moratorium unanimously following a brief public hearing at which no one spoke. No councilors made any comments of substance, except to say they believed the moratorium ordinance was well written.
"This moratorium is the way to go until the state figures out all the intricacies of the new law," Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien said.
Fiorentini, who proposed the moratorium, 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 will be making recommendations for where a marijuana center should be allowed includes Economic Development Director William Pillsbury, police Chief Alan DeNaro, Board of Health chairman Dr. Carl Rosenbloom, City Solicitor William Cox and City Councilor William Ryan.
The mayor said he is expects a recommendation from the advisory panel next month.
Ryan previously said he expects the committee will target an industrial park.
"No one wants one in a residential neighborhood," Ryan said at a prior meeting about the dispensaries, which will grow, process and sell marijuana at the same location.
Of the 351 communities in Massachusetts, only Lawrence and the small town of Mendon voted against the November state ballot question that legalized medical marijuana.