EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 5, 2012

City zoning in on medical marijuana

By Brian Messenger

---- — 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.

“We will work carefully, learn from other states’ experiences, and put a system in place that is right for Massachusetts,” said Roach.

In Methuen, Community Development Director Bill Buckley said the state regulations will serve as an important framework for city officials.

“We’re going to watch closely for the release of those,” said Buckley. “We’ve had some preliminary discussions. We believe that the regulations coming out of the Department of Public Health are going to be very telling.”

Buckley met last week to discuss the medical marijuana law with City Solicitor Peter McQuillan, Health Director Brian LaGrasse and Assistant Planning Director Kathleen Colwell. After reviewing draft ordinances from other states, he said the group will consider which zones in the city are appropriate for a treatment center, while paying “careful attention” to avoid a negative impact to residential neighborhoods.

“I don’t think they belong in residential districts,” said Buckley.

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said he plans to discuss the law with police Chief Alan DeNaro, City Solicitor William Cox and city planning and health officials. Fiorentini also urged residents to email or call the mayor’s office to offer feedback.

“We’ll decide which course of action to take,” said Fiorentini. “We know it’s the law of the land. If they want to come here, they have a right to. I’d like to see some input from the public on areas they’d like to see them and areas they would not.”

Material from The Salem News was used in this report.

Ballot Question 3 Results YES NO Statewide 1,914,747 1,108,904 Essex County 216,049 134,969