UPDATED: Selectmen Discuss Town Options in Face of Medical Marijuana Law

Do you think town officials should work to to block medical marijuana dispensaries in town?

Updated Dec. 11, 12:31 p.m.

Patch has learned that the Planning Board discussed a moratorium on applications for marijuana dispensaries but did not actually take a vote, as stated in the story below. The measure will be further discussed at an upcoming Planning Board meeting and a vote may be taken at that time.

Original story:

The Board of Selectmen discussed what, if anything, the board should do in response to the passage of Massachusetts legalization of medical marijuana during the meeting last night.

The passage of ballot question 3 allows for medical marijuana dispensaries, up to five in each Massachusetts county. The new law goes into effect January 1, but requires rules and regulations be set up by the Department of Public Health.

The medical marijuana ballot initiative passed with 63 percent voter approval.

To begin the discussion Town Administrator John Petrin provided the selectmen with what has happened thus far in town. He explained that last Thursday night the Planning Board approved a six-month moratorium on applications for marijuana dispensaries. He said the moratorium could be challenged by a potential applicant but the move adds an extra step. The purpose, he said, was to give the town more time to come up with regulations, if town leaders choose to do so, before facing possible establishment applications.

"The moratorium will put hold on [applications]," Petrin said. "It can be challenged but hopefully the courts will see we are working on getting things in order."

The Planning Board has not held any public hearings due to the time restraint. Petrin said the board approved the moratorium last week to get it in place before the law allowing dispensaries goes into affect in January.

The Board of Selectmen decided not to take a vote on whether or not to support the moratorium, at least until after public hearings are held. They did, however, vote to send letters to Burlington's representation in the state house supporting an expansion of the time-frame in which towns and cities have to set their regulations before having to allow dispensary applications. 

There was also discussion on what the town might do in the future. Burlington cannot simply disallow medical marijuana dispensaries in town, Petrin explained, because the law was passed by popular vote.

He said that if the town does not come up with regulations, such as zoning restrictions, for medical marijuana dispensaries, the town could be open to "use by right" if someone wants to set one up in town. He likened it to the adult entertainment industry, where if towns did not have special regulations but instead tried to simply disallow establishments, they were open to legal action that undercut any town input on where they could open.

"This could fall under the same conditions as adult entertainment where the courts ruled that any community that banned it has violated the rights of the people and thus they could suddenly be put anywhere in the community," he said. "That’s how Marlborough got a 'XXX store' right next to Town Hall for a while."

What is clear is that there are still a lot of questions on how this new law will unfold. First of all, though Massachusetts voters passed the initiative, medical marijuana is still a violation of federal law.

It is also unclear what Burlington residents want for the town. Most members of the board spoke as if the issue in front of them was how to prevent or limit marijuana dispensaries in town, though that is not necessarily the view of residents. As Selectman Walter Zenkin pointed out a majority of Burlington voters supported the law. .

What do you think? Should Burlington officials work to block medical marijuana dispensaries in town? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Joe Mosely December 12, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I don't see why we shouldn't allow a dispensary in town. While many of us are blessed with good health, if we can help someone who is in pain or otherwise suffering with a medical condition I think we have a moral obligation to do so. We allow the sale of many items in town which have no therapeutic value(e.g. alcohol and cigarettes) and it would seem inhumane to deny those in need with access to something that may be a tender mercy to them. And who are we to stigmatize them with our self righteous opinions? I say lets show some compassion. Many in this town still believe in looking after one another and especially those in need. It can't always be about the big banks, shopping plaza's and condominiums.
DAD December 12, 2012 at 11:42 PM
You Marilyn could not be more wrong . Learn the facts before you suppose>
Marilyn Belmonte December 13, 2012 at 01:54 PM
The marijuana business is not the same a pizza shop. Several unbiased, third-party research reports cite increased crime, increased traffic, increased truancy, decreased business revenuers, decrease in property values. For example: crime surrounding dispensaries. Marijuana sales are cash only. Since it is still an illegal drug, you can not use a bank card or credit card. So people will travel from all around the state to Burlington with large sums of cash. That attracts criminals from other areas. They mug people going to the dispensary for their cash and leaving the dispensary for the pot. Drug dealers try to undercut the dispensaries by selling pot at lower prices. That encourages other drugs being sold in the area. Increased crime and loitering scares off customers of surrounding businesses. People become afraid to shop near the dispensary which then causes a decrease in business revenue for our current businesses. In essence, marijuana stores are bad news for the community. We already voted with compassion but now we need to consider about the health of our town and how it will impact the value of our homes.
Mary Beth December 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Thank you Marilyn for giving us the correct information with regard to this issue.
Carol Vachon March 08, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Leaving aside the issuse of efficacy (although I personally believe that it would be beneficial to those with chronic illnesses) and the fact that marijuana is still illegal from a federal perspective, and focusing soley on the fact that the law in favor of medical marijuana has passed in Massachusetts, I would suggest that we try the establishment of a special zone for the sale of medical marijuana near Mall Road or Cambridge Street close to route 128. Not sure if the law allows it, but perhaps we could even add local sales tax to the sale of medical marijuana.


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