The Burlington Planning Board voted unanimously during last Thursday's meeting to recommend that Town Meeting approve a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensary applications until June 30, 2014.
The next Town Meeting is scheduled for Jan. 28.
The warrant article was put forward by the board to give the town more time to figure out what restrictions can legally be placed on the dispensaries. It will also give town officials time to better asses the public's will when it comes to medical marijuana sales in town.
The moratorium was originally suggested by member Paul Raymond, who said he thought it was important that the town have more time to react to the new law allowing marijuana dispensaries, which was passed as a ballot measure in the November election. The new law allows medical marijuana dispensaries, up to five in each Massachusetts county.
"I recommended this and I thought it would stand legally," Raymand said. "It hought town of Burlington should have at least 6 months (the original proposal) to consider this issue because it’s so new."
Planning Director Kristin Kassner said that along with the Planning Board discussion, there was also a working group that she attended that also included school officials and representatives from the fire and police departments.
"It was a very good discussion" she said.
What was clear from the discussion, and previous discussion by the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen, is that there are many unanswered questions about how the new law will be implemented and what town's can do to limit, or at least control the placement, of dispensaries.
Kasner said that other towns have taken one of three approaches: doing nothing, a moratorium or outright prohibition. However, because voters made the dispensaries legal, she said, there are risks of trying prohibition as such action would likely fail to stand up in court. She said that other towns who have passed rules prohibiting marijuana dispensaries are facing the possibility of those ruling be overturned at the state level.
"Wakefield and Reading went with prohibition and we’ve heard from the Attorney General that the Reading bylaw is already having trouble," she said. "It has been flagged and held."
The same argument about the weakness of prohibition laws was also brought up at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting when Town Administrator John Petrin likened that track to previous moves by communities to block adult entertainment.
, for medical marijuana dispensaries, the town could be open to "use by right" if someone wants to set one up in town. He compared 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.
In the end the Planning Board voted to recommend the moratorium, in place until June 30, 2014, to give Burlington more time to discuss the issue and come up with appropriate zoning regulations or bylaws. Kassner said that town counsel stated the moratorium should hold and that the language of the warrant article was drafted with attorney participation.
What do you think? Should Burlington work to manage, prohibit, or simply allow medical marijuana dispensaries? Let us know in the comments section below.