By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — Voters at the 2014 spring Town Meeting may be asked to decide where to allow the sale of medical marijuana in town.
Town Planning Director Paul Materazzo has put together a committee that is working on regulations and a zoning bylaw that would allow the sale of medical marijuana in certain parts of town and prohibit it in others.
So far, the committee, made up of 10 town officials, has identified five locations for a possible dispensary, including recently rezoned parcels of land on River and Dascomb roads, property across from the IRS on Lowell Street, the Doctor’s Park on Haverhill Street and Ballardvale Street in the Lowell Junction area.
“We’re not suggesting one site over another,” Materazzo said. “We are just starting the conversation.”
Furthermore, he said, the town would be open to other locations as suggested by residents at upcoming public hearings on the proposal.
“We are trying to set up a safe place for the distribution of medical marijuana,” he said. “Whether it’s in a doctors’ office park, on Main Street or somewhere else. It will be interesting to see what the political leaders think about where it should go.”
Materazzo said the Planning Board is holding a hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 3, followed by a meeting of the Board of Selectmen Dec. 16 to get more input on the zoning proposal as it takes shape.
“We’ll pick it up again after the holidays in anticipation of submitting something for the warrant at the next Town Meeting,” he said.
Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski said the task of the committee would be to create an “overlay district” so that medical marijuana would be allowed in addition to other existing uses. “If (the bylaw) matures, it will be on for next Town Meeting,” he added. “That’s the plan right now.”
Alex Vispoli, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the effort is two-pronged, including putting together “regulations for such a facility if proposed ... and a determination of where it would be allowed under the zoning.”
“It’s something every town has to come to terms with,” he said. “There’s no choice in the matter since the law was passed. We have to decide how to regulate it and the location.”
The bylaw discussion comes in response to last fall’s approval by the state’s voters permitting the sale of medical marijuana. The ballot question passed overwhelmingly, including in Andover where 61 percent of voters approved of the idea.
State regulators recently issued guidelines for the dispensaries, which may only sell marijuana to people who have a doctor’s prescription for a diagnosed medical problem.
When the law was passed, the state attorney general allowed communities to set one-year moratoriums on the clinics to leave time to write and implement zoning guidelines.
When a Newburyport man made inquiries about setting up a marijuana dispensary in town earlier this year, local officials said that Andover should consider such a moratorium. However, that idea was shelved as Chris Edwards of Alternative Therapies Group seems to have shifted his interest toward Salem and other communities for a medical marijuana clinic.
Instead, the town is eyeing a new zoning district that would allow the sale of medical marijuana.
“We are better off writing rules and identifying where, if they come to town, they would be amenable,” Materazzo said. “Some communities are allowing it on main street, and see no difference between that and what CVS does, while others are putting them in the most remote locations possible.”
Materazzo added that he is looking at it based on the intent of the law.
“I go back to what the law is trying to do, which is providing for the humanitary use of medical marijuana,” he said. “Would you want them (patients) to go into places that are hidden, dark and inaccessible?”
The group looking at the proposal is made up of the town counsel, town manager, chairmen of the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen, health agent, building inspector, police and fire chiefs and a representative of the School Department.
The group is using several model bylaws that have been approved by the state attorney general as templates for the Andover bylaw, Materazzo said.