SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 11, 2013

Support but no vote yet for pot ban

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — City councilors still seem determined to pass a zoning bylaw banning medical marijuana dispensaries from Peabody.

But they’re being pretty mellow about it.

The council failed to vote last night due to a technicality caused when the Planning Board failed to formally “present” their vote on the measure — which was unanimously to adopt the ban. The council held a hearing anyway with the understanding that the vote will come quickly at their next meeting.

No one from the public appeared at the hearing to voice support or opposition.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who proposed the new zoning bylaw, made a plea for its adoption, stressing the confusion wrought by the passage last November, via a vaguely written referendum, of a bill allowing such facilities across the state.

“Who’s going to write the rules?” Bettencourt asked. “Who’s going to be the enforcer of them? The city or the state?”

He wondered if the Legislature would establish an age limit for the use of the marijuana, which is said to have medicinal value for those suffering some illnesses. Would there be a background check required of the people who opened these dispensaries, which he referred to repeatedly as “pot shops”?

Noting that he’s been approached by people seeking to open such places, Bettencourt worried that they did not have a medical background. Having investigated the matter, he concluded, “What I’ve put together is pretty distressing.”

Expressing sympathy for the sick, the mayor said, “My family has been touched by cancer.” But medicines should be passed out in pharmacies and hospitals, he said.

Asked by Councilor Barry Sinewitz if he’d heard anything regarding clarifications of the law from state officials, Bettencourt answered, “No. I’ve no information about what the state is going to do.”

Only Councilor Bob Driscoll, the longest-serving member, voted against the zoning change when it was brought up for a preliminary vote in December. He argued then that the Legislature should be given time to sort out the problems with the law.

Driscoll made no comment during last night’s meeting, but he later reiterated his concerns that any decision should wait. “I think it’s premature. I think we’re way ahead of where we’re supposed to be. I think the people have spoken.”

Explaining that he sees the marijuana as a blessing for the sick, he added, “Who’s kidding who? Of all the drugs. ... It’s not that horrific.”

Sinewitz noted that any medical marijuana dispensary would not pay taxes in Peabody. He wondered aloud “how it benefits the city of Peabody?”

Speaking in support of the ban, Councilor Arthur Athas repeated his regret that he voted in favor of the referendum last November, thinking that the medical marijuana would have to be distributed by doctors and in drugstores, with prescriptions.

As to the notion of banning dispensaries in the city, Athas compared it to towns that have successfully declared themselves “dry,” forbidding the sale of alcohol.