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Date Posted: 22:20:10 05/06/13 Mon
Subject: Respect Voters On Medical Marijuana
RESPECT VOTERS ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA
The message about medical marijuana Massachusetts voters sent last November could hardly be more clear: More than 63 percent of voters statewide said medical marijuana should be available under the limits set by the ballot initiative and rules now being prepared by the Department of Public Health.
The results were remarkably uniform: Voters in just two of the state's 351 municipalities urban Lawrence and small-town Mendon defeated Question 2, and in both cases with a bare 51 percent majority. Nearly every MetroWest community approved it by at least 60 percent.
Those clear results haven't stopped some local officials from assuming they know better than the people they are elected to represent. Several towns including Wakefield, Melrose and Reading have attempted to ban marijuana dispensaries altogether. Many other communities are seeking to impose moratoriums on dispensaries within their borders, presumably to provide time to enact their own regulations which, in some cases, sound like the goal is to make siting a dispensary all but impossible. The people want patients with debilitating illnesses to have access to relief from marijuana, some municipal officials seem to be saying, but they won't get it in our town.
But the voters last fall didn't just sent a message, they enacted a law. And, as Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled this week in throwing out Wakefield's ban, local officials cannot undo what the voters have already done.
Moratoriums like those enacted or being considered by area cities and towns are OK, Coakley said, while public boards write rules designating zones where the dispensaries can be located, signage rules, hours of operation and so on. These local rules may not prove necessary, as the DPH rules, now being drafted, will likely include the kind of common-sense restrictions most local officials envision. The draft DPH rules are to be released at the end of this month and, after a period for public comment, finalized in early May.
The DPH will also establish a process for awarding dispensary licenses, which are limited under the ballot measure to no more than 35 for the state, with no more than five in any county. The sponsors of the ballot measure wanted to avoid the hundreds of "pot shops" that have caused headaches in other states.
As Coakley's opinion makes clear, zoning regulation remains a local matter, but it also holds a message for local officials tempted to write local dispensary regulations so onerous as to appear designed to keep dispensaries out rather than to give them an opportunity to locate where it makes the most sense for the community. We've seen such bylaws enacted before in the form of "adult entertainment zones" in landlocked areas where no developer could build.
Such tactics are unnecessary and may well be illegal. Medical marijuana, properly regulated, is not a threat to any community. The voters enacted this law over the objections of Coakley and many other elected officials and their intentions must be respected.
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom
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