By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — The public will have a chance to comment before City Council votes on a proposal to ban medical marijuana dispensaries for three months while a committee decides where such a business should be located, if one tries to open here.
The council last night referred Mayor James Fiorentini’s proposal for a three-month moratorium to the Planning Board to schedule the public hearing, which will be in early July, Planning Director William Pillsbury said.
The council also approved nominations from the mayor to the committee that will be making recommendations for where a marijuana center should be allowed. The appointees are Pillsbury, police Chief Alan DeNaro, Board of Health chairman Dr. Carl Rosenbloom, City Solicitor William Cox and City Councilor William Ryan.
Ryan said he expects the committee will target an industrial park.
“No one wants one in a residential neighborhood,” Ryan said of the dispensaries, which will grow, process and sell marijuana at the same location.
The use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts was approved by 63 percent of voters in the Nov. 6 general election. In Haverhill, 60 percent of voters supported the measure, which removed criminal and civil penalties for medical marijuana use for patients with certain debilitating 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, cities and towns cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but they can regulate where they are allowed.
“I have strong feelings that they shouldn’t be in a residential neighborhood, but I’ll leave it to the committee to determine where they should be,” Fiorentini said in a prior interview. “The voters passed it, so I have no problem with it. That’s how democracy works. But we need to make sure we prepare for the possibility someone might to try open one in the city.”
The mayor said he sees it as unlikely someone would try to open a marijuana center in Haverhill, because there can be only five in the county. But he also noted he was recently contacted by a group that is scouting for locations.
Fiorentini he is looking for a recommendation from the advisory panel by Aug. 1.
Councilor William Macek has been pushing for the city to make a zoning district for any potential dispensary before one tries to come here.
“We should be proactive rather than reactive,” Macek said. “I don’t want to end up in a situation where something, through a court battle, ends up being brought to the city, like it or not, in a certain area or a certain location or building.”
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.