EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 19, 2012

Mayor: 'No need to panic'

He says marijuana dispensaries can't apply for license yet

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini tried to calm the City Council last night about the possibility of a medical marijuana dispensary opening in Haverhill.

“No one can even apply for a license until the state issues its regulations,” Fiorentini said. “There’s no need to panic on this.”

The use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts was approved by 63 percent of voters in the Nov. 6 general election. The dispensaries will be overseen by the state Department of Public Health, which has until April to release specific regulations.

Concerns for what the city can do to prepare for the possibility of a medical marijuana dispensary came up last night. Councilor William Macek said it is time for the city to come up with a plan to deal with a request to open a dispensary.

“It’s somewhat rushing upon us,” Macek said, about the new law set to take effect Jan. 1. The law removes state criminal and civil penalties for medical marijuana use for patients with certain debilitating conditions. It also 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.

“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.”

“Just as we have had to do with adult zones...that every city has to at least provide an area, you can’t zone them out,” he said.

Macek said he provided each council member with a copy of a zoning amendment passed by the town of Wakefield last month. Macek said Wakefield amended its rules to not allow medical marijuana centers in any of its zoned districts.

He said Haverhill should be “somewhat cautious” in its approach.

“I don’t want it have it be denied to anyone who is really in need and in pain and suffering because of a condition,” he said. “They should have access to it but they need to have access to it in a very professional manner.”

Macek said California’s system for dispensing of medical marijuana appears to be “too loose of a system.”

“Just about anybody can walk in and fill out and sign a form,” he said. “They advertise right on their streets and on their buildings, come in for medical marijuana.”

Fiorentini said that according to the city solicitor there are already restrictions about where a dispensary could open in the city. For example, current ordinances would prevent one from opening in a residential zone.

Following last night’s meeting, City Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he would not be opposed to a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill, but that he would want it to be strictly regulated and be located in a professional setting.

“I would support them in a medical setting, such as a doctor’s building or a hospital,” Sullivan said.

Councilor Michael McGonagle said he would not oppose one either, but would not want to see such a dispensary near a school, a park or in a residential area.

“Zoning is likely the way to restrict where they can be located,” he said.