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June 12, 2014

Methuen panel to explore medical marijuana zoning

Methuen proceeds on temporary moratorium

METHUEN — The mayor will appoint a group to recommend within a year where and how to zone medical marijuana dispensaries, city officials said.

That group would consist of at least one member of the Board of Health, the Community Development Board, which considers planning and zoning issues, the police department and the city solicitor’s office, said Kathleen Colwell, assistant director of planning.

The group would report back with recommendations in no later than 12 months. “They would consider what zoning ordinance would be appropriate for this city,” Colwell said.

In the meantime, Methuen is moving toward a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries operating within the city. Nearly 115 communities have established moratoriums while they consider zoning options, Colwell said.

Jonathan Eichman, an attorney with Kopelman and Paige, said there is no legal reason not to have a moratorium, but a practical reason in favor of having one.

“The practical reason why is you will know where they will go,” he said.

Without a special medical marijuana zone, a dispensary could go in certain areas zoned for clinics or retail, depending on how the current zoning ordinance is interpreted.

“If you do nothing, it could go in as a right wherever the districts allow,” he said.

The City Council and the Community Development Board held a joint public hearing on a temporary moratorium last night. No one from the public spoke either way on the moratorium.

“This just gives us a little breathing room,” said Community Development Board chairman Stephen DeFeo.

The council would have to vote to approve the moratorium. It voted in April to have last night’s hearing.

Local officials cannot prohibit dispensaries from opening within their community borders, according to a decision from the state attorney general’s office last year. Cities and towns can, though, restrict where a dispensary may operate and institute moratoriums while they create zoning rules.

No dispensary has been proposed in Methuen.

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