Mayor Ted Bettencourt is wise to begin devising alternatives to Peabody’s new law banning medical marijuana facilities within city limits. What was unwise was proposing and passing the law in the first place, as a knee-jerk reaction to the success in November of a statewide ballot question legalizing medical marijuana use across the state.
The law calls for as many as 35 marijuana dispensaries to be set up this year. The state Department of Public Health will be in charge of regulating medical marijuana and deciding how the dispensaries will work, how much pot they can give out and where the drug will come from. Those rules were supposed to come down by May 1 but will likely take much longer.
Municipal officials in Peabody and a handful of other Massachusetts communities reacted to the news by trying to replace state law with one of their own. The Peabody City Council took its unanimous 9-0 vote in January. Absent from that meeting was Councilor Bob Driscoll, the only member of the board to oppose the bylaw. Driscoll said the city was acting too hastily.
As it turns out, he was right. Last week, state Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that a similar law in Wakefield was invalid because it conflicted with state law.
The new state law could be essentially pushed aside “if a municipality could prohibit treatment centers within its borders,” Coakley said, “for if one municipality could do so, presumably all could do so.”
Now, Bettencourt is considering pushing for a moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in the city until the Legislature and state health officials work out the final details on the new law, or until zoning issues can be worked out. That seems a much wiser course, one Coakley has approved in other communities.
Bettencourt is standing by his earlier decision, telling reporter Alan Burke, “I felt the action we took was the best thing for the city.”
We didn’t like the proposed new law either, editorializing against it last year. But this is a good time to recall a fact that officials in Peabody and other communities seem to forget: The voting public approved the new law. In fact, it wasn’t even close, with 63 percent voting in favor statewide. The measure passed in every North Shore city and town, including Peabody, where the tally was 57 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed. The voters aren’t stupid; they knew what they were voting for, and the more quickly lawmakers realize this, the better.
It is not the job of elected officials to try to figure out how to ignore the will of the people. Rather, it’s to see that will carried out safely, fairly and honestly.