No pot dispensaries for an additional nine months, city manager suggests

A display of medical marijuana in Long Beach, Calif., plays up the pharmaceutical aspects of the business. (Photo: Dank Depot)

Medical marijuana dispensaries will be barred for at least nine months – or until regulation is in place – if the City Council adopts a suggestion from the city manager to be heard at its meeting Monday.

In looking at the rollout of dispensaries in cities such as Los Angeles and Berkeley, Calif., City Manager Robert W. Healy found them “attracting criminal activity or causing a general public nuisance.”

“Given that the system for regulating medical marijuana treatment centers at the state level is not yet clear, and the city has not had the opportunity to study and discuss the public health, safety, general welfare and land use implications of the new law, it would be beneficial to establish an interim restriction on the establishment of such uses,” Healy said.

State law as of Jan. 1 calls for up to 35 marijuana dispensaries (called “treatment centers”) in Massachusetts, with at least one and no more than five in each county. The was voted in Nov. 6 by 63 percent of voters statewide and by 73 percent of voters in Cambridge. On Dec. 3, Craig Kelley and other city councillors asked the city manager to look into what impact the law could have and how to address it.

Healy’s suggested restriction would last until city zoning and other regulations were adapted for the new use and to give the city’s Public Health Department a chance to look over regulations from the state Department of Public Health. But those are to be filed no later than 120 days after the law is enacted – in this case, by May 1.

His suggested zoning lays out a much longer timeline:

This [zoning] shall be effective for nine months beginning Jan. 1 or until such future time that the City Council enacts superseding zoning regulations that set forth the allowed locations, dimensional, parking and other requirements applicable to medical marijuana uses.

A nationwide issue

There are 17 other states where marijuana dispensaries are legal, including in Washington and Colorado, where majorities voted Nov. 6 not just in favor of medical use, but recreational use as well.

State laws such as in Massachusetts and especially in Washington and Colorado set up conflicts with federal law that still sees marijuana use as illegal, but remarks by President Barack Obama to ABC’s Barbara Walters on Friday – and expected fights over fiscal matters, election reform and now gun control – suggest the White House’s priorities won’t be on a crackdown.

“We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Obama said. “It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”

Yet when Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, suggested Congress pass a law legalizing marijuana within states where it’s legal, Obama told ABC that wasn’t an option “at this point.” And White House inattention doesn’t mean law enforcement won’t continue to arrest and prosecute users or dealers, as has happened in California.

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