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May 1, 2014

Methuen puts brakes on marijuana dispensaries

METHUEN — The city is the latest in the area to put a moratorium on opening medical marijuana dispensaries while it decides where to zone them and awaits guidelines from the state.

Health officials recommended the temporary ban, which the City Council approved unanimously on April 22, to decide where to allow dispensaries and to wait for the state Department of Public Health, which is overseeing the medical marijuana program approved by voters in 2012, to issue guidelines or rules about placement of dispensaries and growing facilities.

No group has proposed a dispensary in Methuen.

“The main thing is really, even though the medical marijuana passed, there aren’t any guidelines from the state,” said Ray Wrobel, chairman of the Board of Health. “We want to make sure there are guidelines and they are in place.”

Citing “novel and complex legal, planning and public safety issues,” the city banned medical marijuana dispensaries until June 30, 2015, according to the resolution the City Council approved.

Mayor Stephen Zanni supports the moratorium, and said the city should have one in place to work out zoning before the state opens another round of licensing applications.

“My feeling is, though, it’s not warranted here in the city,” he said.

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.

Given that, Zanni said the city should consider where a potential dispensary should locate, and just as importantly, where one should not. “One thing you have to consider is one not being placed near a school setting,” he said. “And do we have a location in Methuen? That’s the other thing.”

Haverhill and Lawrence, both of which already have moratoriums in place, were the only area communities with proposals out of 100 submitted to the state in November, though the Lawrence proposal was not chosen for a provisional license.

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