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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.

Marilyn Belmonte December 11, 2012 at 12:59 PM
The ballot question did not ask whether we wanted a marijuana retail store in our town. That question is entirely separate from the ballot question. I think the open forums will show that most residents will not support marijuana stores in Burlington.
CEB December 11, 2012 at 01:33 PM
NIMBY - Not in my backyard. There is no need for one of these stores in our town. My concern is that this is only the first step in a string of future laws that eventually allow the sale of Marijuana at all stores everywhere. Let's keep it out of our community as long as we can and try to keep in out of the reach of our young kids.
Rose Johnson December 11, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I support the suggestion that marijuana dispensaries should be located in hospitals or pharmacies. I would not have a problem with one situated in the Lahey Clinic. My son recently died of cancer, and I know how important marijuana was in keeping him comfortable - he did not live in Massachusetts, but in a state where it was legal.
TOM KILLILEA December 11, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Medical marijuana would be prescribed the same as any other medicine from a doctor. It's ironic that some people would want to ban it from being sold "legally" in Burlington while almost every teenager in town can tell you where to purchase it illegally, along with most other narcotics. Let's control the sale of it just as we do with any other prescribed medicine.
Small govt big dreams December 11, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Seriously?!? "Keep it out of reach of our young children!" Wow the 1960's called they want their rhetoric back. When i was in high school (12 years ago) i could find marijuana on a friday before the end of school, conversely it could have taken a whole weekend to convince someone to buy me a six pack if at all. There is far less of a chance of our "young children" getting their hands on it if it's regulated.
Chazzy December 11, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Seriously?!? "Keep it out of reach of our young children!" Wow the 1960's called they want their rhetoric back. When i was in high school (12 years ago) i could find marijuana on a friday before the end of school, conversely it could have taken a whole weekend to convince someone to buy me a six pack if at all. There is far less of a chance of our "young children" getting their hands on it if it's regulated.
Carrie December 11, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I am reading that other towns such as Melrose, Wakefield, etc., have already said they do want this in their towns so if they can say it then Burlington should also be able to say no to having it dispensed here. I agree that the ballot question did not ask us if we wanted it in our town.
Alex Bonnar December 11, 2012 at 10:20 PM
As it is still a violation of federal law, I don't see how the town could get in trouble by refusing to permit a dispensary. However, I think it's still good for the town to have this discussion now. I think it should be treated the same as a pharmacy, which brings me to my question - why would we even have dispensaries? Shouldn't it just fall under the scope of a pharmacy?
Phil December 11, 2012 at 10:29 PM
If it is medically prescribed it will be available in pharmacies and bylaws will be no more effective than if you tried to ban morphine or oxycontin. In any event it is likely to be made legal for recreational use throughout the country in the next decade.
Marilyn Belmonte December 12, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Tom, you are completely wrong. Marijuana will not be prescribed at all. A doctor can only recommend that a patient use marijuana. Therefore it will not be sold in pharmacies and will not be sold in hospitals. It can only be sold in a retail store.We can not control it as a prescribed drug until it PASSES the FDA standards. Please remember, this state law contradicts a federal law. And federal law always trumps state law.
Marilyn Belmonte December 12, 2012 at 02:02 AM
I understand your feelings but unfortunately, marijuana can not be sold by Lahey or any other hospital at this time. Marijuana is a Schedule I illegal drug/controlled substance. As classified as schedule I, it has no medical use according to federal law called the Controlled Substances Act. Lahey would risk losing its federal funding if it sells a federally illegal drug. That is why we are talking about marijuana retail shops. Under this state law that contradicts federal law, that is the only way it can be sold legally.
Marilyn Belmonte December 12, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Again, people were confused by this ballot question. This new law did not say anything about prescriptions or pharmacies. Doctors can NOT prescribe illegal drugs . Pharmacies can NOT sell illegal drugs. Marijuana is STILL an illegal drug according to federal law. In order to become a prescription drug, every medicine in this country must pass strict FDA standards for safety. Marijuana has never been through the process. Therefore a doctor can only "recommend" marijuana to a patient. Then the patient has to go to marijuana retail store to buy it. The question now is, do we want a pot shop in Burlington.
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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