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December 5, 2012

Salem mulls zoning of pot clinics

SALEM — City officials have begun discussions on how to handle medical marijuana dispensaries, if one were to come to town.

Last night, the City Council discussed changing zoning laws to classify marijuana dispensaries as “medical clinics,” which would prohibit them from residential zones and require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The council did not take a side on the issue but sent the matter to the city’s Planning Board.

The Planning Board will consider the issue and return to the City Council with a recommendation. After that, the council will vote on whether or not to adopt the zoning change.

Councilor Josh Turiel called the zoning change an “effective solution,” allowing the city to decide where dispensaries would be located on a case-by-case basis.

The issue is on the Planning Board’s meeting agenda for tomorrow night. The board will meet at 7 at the City Hall Annex, room 313, 120 Washington St.

Members of the Planning Board also sat in on last night’s council meeting.

Salem is the latest North Shore community to discuss medical pot shops, after Massachusetts voters passed a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana in the Nov. 6 election.

The Peabody City Council has moved toward banning dispensaries in that city. Danvers selectmen also discussed the issue last night (see related story).

The newly passed law allows for a total of 35 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, with no more than five in each county. The centers may grow, process and provide marijuana to patients who have a prescription from a physician.

None will be licensed until January 2014, said Elizabeth Rennard, Salem’s city solicitor.

In a Nov. 15 letter to the City Council, Rennard said she is confident that medical marijuana dispensaries would fall under the city’s definition of a medical clinic, therefore requiring ZBA approval.

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