By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — City officials are expected to seek public input this spring as they develop zoning guidelines for medical marijuana treatment centers.
A medical marijuana ballot question was approved by 63 percent of Massachusetts voters last fall. As a result, state criminal and civil penalties for medical marijuana use for patients with certain debilitating conditions were removed effective Jan. 1.
The ballot provision calls for 35 non-profit treatment centers throughout the state. The centers may grow, process and provide marijuana to patients who have a prescription from a physician.
State health officials on March 29 will release draft regulations governing its medical marijuana program.
Yesterday, City Councilor Jamie Atkinson said he will call for a public hearing this spring so city officials can gather feedback regarding the potential placement of a treatment center in Methuen.
Cities and towns can regulate where the centers are zoned within their borders but cannot ban them outright. Another option for municipalities is to approve a temporary moratorium.
Atkinson on Tuesday expressed support for a moratorium, writing in a Facebook post that he will submit legislation “to temporarily keep medical marijuana centers from opening in Methuen.” The post drew 167 comments.
“I didn’t think I was going to get such an outcry,” said Atkinson. “I think the majority were against my stance.”
In response, Atkinson said he will instead call for a public hearing after city officials have time to review the state’s draft regulations.
“If that many people care about the issue I think they should be heard,” said Atkinson. “I’d like to see what other people’s ideas are. The more proactive we are, the more information we can gather, the better informed we’ll be.”
Atkinson said he voted in favor of the ballot question last fall and said medical marijuana in Massachusetts is “long overdue.” But he remains concerned about zoning issues if a dispensary were to come to Methuen.
“I want to make sure they’re zoned properly,” said Atkinson.
Community Development Director William Buckley said cities and downs deserve time to review the guidelines to ensure that the treatment centers are not placed in an undesirable location.
“I think it would be appropriate for the municipalities to have an opportunity to digest the new state regulations,” said Buckley. “I don’t think we want these things near schools or within residential neighborhoods, at a minimum.”