, Salem, MA

January 25, 2013

Marijuana dispensaries banned in Peabody

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — There will be no medicinal pot shop in Peabody, providing that last night’s unanimous and final vote by the City Council withstands any judicial scrutiny.

“I do understand the needs of those suffering from cancer,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said, citing a major selling point of the law passed by voters statewide last November — that it’s intended to provide marijuana to those who say that smoking the drug is essential to easing their pain.

But Bettencourt added that there are plenty of reasons to doubt the positive impact of the measure.

“There are so many questions regarding how it’s going to be implemented and how it’s going to be enforced,” he told the council just before the vote was taken. “I’ve worked very hard over the years to try to teach our young people about the dangers of drugs.”

Marijuana shops in Peabody would undercut that message, he said.

Bettencourt also lamented the sorts of people who have approached the city seeking to open a pot shop, noting that they aren’t doctors or medical professionals.

Peabody, at the convergence of several major highways, is a prime target for those hoping to sell marijuana, according to the mayor.

But he pointed to the fact that seven towns — with Melrose the latest — have beaten Peabody to the punch as far as banning marijuana shops.

“I believe we’re the first city,” Bettencourt said. “I think it would be the right thing to do.”

The issue had been debated previously, and councilors spent little time in discussion.

“I guess a lot of people didn’t read the fine print,” said Arthur Athas, citing confusion about the November referendum question and asserting that many were surprised following the vote to discover that marijuana would not be distributed by doctors or in pharmacies.

He expressed doubts that it would pass if offered again.

The Peabody ban, originally sponsored by the mayor, passed 9-0, with two councilors absent, including Bob Driscoll, the only member of the board who expressed opposition to the bylaw. Driscoll has said he believes that the city is acting too hastily, that the Legislature should be given time to deal with the sorts of objections the mayor has raised.

Concerns about the new ban also include worries that the city will be sued. For that matter, Athas argued that some towns are considered within their rights to ban alcohol.

“I know we’ve received some criticism from some areas,” Councilor Jim Liacos said. But he recalled his opposition some years ago to the opening of a Hooters restaurant in Peabody.

“Enough is enough,” he said out of frustration that Peabody already hosts two striptease bars.

Liacos conceded that if the city had been sued by Hooters, the chain probably would have won the right to locate here. Nevertheless, it decided the easier course was to put the eatery somewhere else.

City officials hope the marijuana ban works the same way.