SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 23, 2012

Mayor: No pot shops in city

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — Mayor Ted Bettencourt will seek to outlaw marijuana shops in Peabody.

“I will be going to the (City Council) on Tuesday and ask them to ban the operation of medical marijuana treatment shops in the city,” he said Wednesday.

A City Council subcommittee had been considering a measure that would limit such shops to specific areas like Route 1, which is zoned for adult activities. But Bettencourt feels the law legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes is so vague that is presents a danger to public safety wherever it is located.

The law passed via a ballot measure on Election Day, Nov. 6, and allows the use of the drug for medical reasons.

“It’s not in the best interest of the city,” Bettencourt said, adding that he voted against the ballot question and both police Chief Robert Champagne and the city’s Board of Health were outspoken in their opposition to it.

The mayor suggested a concern that the use of marijuana could lead to more drug use in general.

“Every family’s been troubled in some way with someone involved in drug abuse,” he said.

Councilor Barry Osborne had a cautious reaction to the mayor’s proposal. While he voted against the marijuana law, he’s since met with people interested in locating a shop in Peabody. “I heard from one individual who’s part of a nonprofit. It seemed legit.” In that case, he said, the law could be a boon for Peabody. “It could actually generate some revenue.”

But all depends, Osborne cautioned, on how such an operation would be run. He cited the city’s melancholy experience with methadone clinics some years back as an unfortunate precedent.

“I would probably ask for more time,” he said of his response to the mayor.

Whatever is decided, Osborne wants the city to have a degree of control over any facility.

More enthusiastic is Councilor Anne Manning-Martin, chairwoman of the Legal Affairs Subcommittee, who said, “I’m happy to hear the mayor is moving in that direction.” If a firm legal case can be established for barring the shop, she added, “I would be inclined to support this.”

Manning-Martin also voted against the initiative and is frustrated by the confusion it’s generated. She sees a familiar pattern in “the state telling us what to do but not how to do it.”

Asked if the city had the legal right to forbid the opening of treatment shops, the mayor, who is a lawyer, replied, “I’m going to try.” He said he had discussed the move with City Solicitor Michael Smerczynski, who also believes it can be done.

“Two other cities, Wakefield and Reading, recently did this,” Bettencourt said.

During the debate over the law, opponents complained that it imposed no age limit on the use of marijuana. “That’s one of my concerns,” the mayor said. “One of many. There are so many questions about how this going to implemented. ... So much uncertainty connected to how these regulations are going to work. Until some of them are answered, I don’t want it operating in the city.”