SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 11, 2013

Salem council votes against further marijuana regulations

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — SALEM — City councilors last night shot down a proposal to consider new regulations for a medical marijuana dispensary to be placed in the city.

Before the vote, they heard a passionate presentation from a resident who supports such a clinic.

The council unanimously voted last night to kill a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that would specifically address regulations for such dispensaries. The proposal submitted by Councilor Todd Siegel had the intent to give the city more time to study potential impacts and develop any additional restrictions.

If approved last night, the proposal would have put a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries being located in the city until new zoning regulations were voted on by the Planning Board and City Council. The majority of the council believed the city’s current zoning regulations are adequate to locate such a facility in the city. There are five nonprofit organizations looking to open a dispensary in the city, according to Councilor Mike Sosnowski.

Under rules established by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health no more than five dispensaries can be located in a county and there can only be one located in any given community, according to councilors. No licenses have not been awarded by the department as of yet.

During public testimony, Bridge Street resident Nicole Snow Dawson spoke in favor of having a dispensary in the city. Her husband, Tommy, suffers from neurofibromatosis, she said.

“Salem has an opportunity to welcome dispensaries into this community,” Dawson said.

Dawson said her husband’s central nervous system grows tumors throughout his body and explained the pain her husband feels because of his condition and many surgeries.

“His condition has given him a lot of trouble through his 24 years,” she said. “Tommy chooses to use medical cannabis and one of the reasons why is because conventional medicine doesn’t work for him.”

After the meeting, Dawson said she was pleased with the councilors decision.

“The vote means there is going to be an opportunity for one of the applicants to open up in the Salem,” she said. “I felt a lot of love and community that’s just what I expected from the city.”

Siegel said he asked for the order because he didn’t think current zoning addressed all the issues of a marijuana dispensary opening in the city.

“I wanted to put another level to this to make sure we meet all of the guidelines,” he said.

Beyond voting against the proposal to consider new regulations, many councilors expressed support for a dispensary being located in the city.

Paul Prevey, a federal court probation officer, said the city already has local control and restrictions in place. He spoke in favor of a dispensary coming to town saying the city can be a leader in this issue.

“We have to make a distinction between medical marijuana and drug use,” he said. “I think the Department of Public Health really got it right when it came to coming up to these guidelines ... (they) really bore down and came up with some good controls and guidelines to make sure the people that need this medicine to improve their quality of life to provide an effective treatment when all other conventional treatments have failed. I think this really is the way to go.”

George Atkins, an attorney representing Alternative Therapies Group, said there are extensive controls put in place by the state for dispensaries.

“I think your local CVS has far fewer controls than this,” he said. “I appeal to you to think about your constituents — and there are many of them — who need this drug. Putting this off by six months doesn’t make any sense because you have controls in place.”

Christopher Edwards, an entrepreneur who heads the group, said he is looking at the “technology park area” in Salem, which is also off Swampscott Road. “I think they made a rational and efficient decision,” Edwards said of the council’s vote last night.

A moratorium would delay patient access to medical marijuana, Edwards said.

“It is unlikely the DPH will approve a license with a moratorium in place,” said David Torrisi, a consultant for the group.

The 2012 referendum question that allows such medical marijuana dispensaries was passed with 12,465 votes to 6,571 votes by city residents.

Councilor Robert McCarthy thanked Dawson for sharing her story.

“Somebody needs to take the lead on this,” he said. “We have a first-class medical facility in this city and I think that goes hand and hand with us having a first-class dispensary.”

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.