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.
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.