EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

December 5, 2012

City zoning in on medical marijuana

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.

The measure failed in both municipalities by slim margins but passed easily statewide. As a result, cities and towns across the region are now discussing ways to regulate the location of marijuana dispensaries or treatment centers within their borders.

In Lawrence, City Councilor Marc Laplante proposed a change to the city’s zoning ordinances Tuesday that would prevent such a dispensary from locating within 1,000 feet of a school, public park, playground, or residence.

“This is probably more restrictive than less,” said Laplante. “The majority of the people of Lawrence have spoken at the ballot box on this issue. It’s our responsibility to get ahead of the curve.”

The new medical marijuana law takes effect Jan. 1. It removes state criminal and civil penalties for medical marijuana use for patients with certain debilitating conditions.

The law provides for 35 non-profit 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 physician.

Laplante’s proposal was referred to the Lawrence Planning Board and City Council ordinance committee, which meets tonight. He hopes it serves as a catalyst for discussion among city officials.

“Let’s see where it goes,” said Laplante. “What I don’t want to do is wait until February or March. I just want to make sure we’re on top of this.”

Medical marijuana was approved by 63 percent of voters in the Nov. 6 election. The dispensaries will be overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which has until April to release specific regulations.

In a statement released two days after the election, DPH Spokeswoman Anne Roach said the state “will work closely with health care and public safety officials to develop smart and balanced policies and procedures over the coming months.

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