By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini is proposing 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 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.
City Council is scheduled to consider the mayor’s moratorium at Tuesday’s meeting, which is at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
“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 of the marijuana centers. “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.”
Fiorentini 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.
“They wanted to get a feel for the city’s position,” the mayor said. “I told them I’d have to see the details first. Where it would be? What kind of security they would have? Those kinds of things.”
Fiorentini said Health Board chairman Dr. Carl Rosenbloom will head his zoning advisory committee, and that he is looking for a recommendation from the panel by Aug. 1.
“Their directive is to study what is being done in other communities and which zones would be appropriate for legally operated and run medical marijuana dispensaries,” the mayor said.
Fiorentini said he expects the council to refer his proposal to the Planning Board for its recommendation and schedule a public hearing sometime next month.
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... I don’t want it to be denied to anyone who is really in need and in pain and suffering because of a condition. But if they need to have access to it, it should be in a very professional manner.”
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.