BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Danvers selectmen favor a one-year moratorium on the location of medical marijuana dispensaries in town until the state Department of Public Health formulates its regulations on them.
Selectmen Chairman Bill Clark said the unanimous vote last Tuesday sends a draft zoning amendment to the Planning Board for a public hearing on April 23 on an article for the annual Town Meeting in May.
Town counsel prepared the moratorium with input from Town Hall staff “based in part on recent actions taken by other communities,” according to a memo from Town Manager Wayne Marquis.
“A key provision is a specific time frame for the proposed moratorium; the attorney general has made it clear that their approval of any such moratorium (amendment) will require a specific time frame,” Marquis wrote.
“My feeling,” Clark said, “we have to wait until the state regulations come out.”
Clark said that while he and others in town may not like the idea of medical marijuana centers, voters approved them, so “it has to be allowed at some location.”
“The zoning regulation of medical marijuana raises novel and complex planning and land use issues, as well as public safety and legal issues,” the proposed amendment states. The moratorium “will allow the town sufficient time to engage in a planning process to address the effects of such uses and structures in the town ...”
The moratorium would last for a year and would start when state regulations go into effect, or when it might be adopted at the annual Town Meeting, “whichever date is sooner.”
Selectman Dan Bennett, who came up with the idea for a moratorium, said that once the state comes up with the regulations, the Danvers Board of Health could write its own regulations and the town could draft zoning rules to limit where dispensaries might set up shop.
“There can be moratoriums,” said Selectman Gardner Trask, who also serves on the policy committee of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “That’s allowed to give towns adequate time and digest the accelerated time frame.”
Selectman Keith Lucy expressed his opposition to the moratorium on the grounds that the dispensaries should be banned. However, in the end, he voted for the moratorium.
“In the short term, this is our only option,” Lucy said.
Selectman Mike Powers called the moratorium “a logical step.”
The proposed Danvers moratorium comes on the heels of two decisions last week by the state attorney general regarding attempts by communities to deal with medical marijuana dispensaries. One decision struck down a total ban on marijuana treatment centers in Wakefield, but allowed a temporary moratorium in Burlington.
“The temporary moratorium is consistent with the town’s authority to impose reasonable time limitations on development while it conducts planning studies and considers the implication of state Department of Public Health regulations concerning such centers, which are expected to be issued in May 2013,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement on March 13.
In light of the attorney general’s ruling, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt has suggested that a moratorium on medical pot shops might be an alternative to the ban that the City Council passed in January. Peabody officials say they have been approached by multiple agents interested in setting up a facility in the city.
Selectmen are also watching a bill by state Sen. John F. Keenan, D-Quincy, that would ban storefront sales in favor of a signed delivery service. It would restrict the percentage of a doctor’s practice dedicated to marijuana certifications and separate cultivation and distribution centers. The home delivery would eliminate a provision in the current law that allows patients to grow medical pot at home if they have a hardship and cannot make it to a dispensary.
Keenan’s bill also calls for better tracking of doctors’ recommendations, so that a person could not visit every center in the state to get a 60-day supply at each in short order, Trask said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.