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Karen Munkacy, a physician and cancer survivor, speaks at a state hearing on medical marijuana this spring. She is applying to run a marijuana dispensary in Cambridge.

Karen Munkacy, a physician and cancer survivor, speaks at a state hearing on medical marijuana this spring. She is applying to run a marijuana dispensary in Cambridge.

The creation of “medical marijuana overlay districts” in NorthPoint and Fresh Pond was approved Tuesday by the Planning Board, with members saying some of the rules imposed on marijuana dispensaries by the state are too strict.

After hearing from Assistant City Manager Brian Murphy and Sam Lipson of the Cambridge Health Department, the board recommended that the City Council adopt the medical marijuana zoning regulation proposal, speaking in strong support of bringing a registered marijuana dispensary to Cambridge and suggesting they didn’t want regulations that didn’t work for the city to stand in the way.

“The two designated districts have been driven largely by state regulations of staying 500 feet away from educational centers. We are not endorsing or disagreeing with these regulations, but we want freedom,” board member Catherine Preston Connolly said.

Thinking of the children

The overlay districts were created by looking at accessibility to transportation, compatibility with a neighborhood and public safety, but the biggest factor in their creation was the state standard of having a 500-foot buffer from schools, child care centers or other places where children congregate. This buffer includes college campuses, rendering much of Cambridge unsuitable.

“A lot of the security restrictions may not make as much sense in a dense urban area,” Lipson said.

Besides the 500-foot standard, board members also showed concern over the regulation requiring a private loading dock at all registered marijuana dispensaries.

“It’s difficult enough to get a good location in this city, but to get a 1,000-foot facility that also has its own loading dock may be extremely difficult,” board member Steve Cohen said.

These regulations can be overlooked at the discretion of the board when approving the special permit required to become a registered marijuana dispensary, but the board would still seek the opinion of the police department to ensure safety.

No matter what the board decides at the city level, the ultimate approval rests with the state. If the board approves a special permit forgoing a state regulation, the state could still decide not to grant a license.

Two applicants

Thirty-five dispensaries will be licensed statewide, allowing up to five per county. The state has approved 159 dispensary applicants to continue on to a second phase of approval, out of which 40 are vying for a license in Middlesex County, Murphy said.

Thirty-five dispensaries will be licensed statewide, allowing up to five per county. The state has approved 159 dispensary applicants to continue on to a second phase of approval, out of which 40 are vying for a license in Middlesex County, Murphy said.

Middlesex County has the highest number of applicants and the highest number of residents – about 23 percent of the state’s population. Despite that, Murphy and board chairman Hugh Russell said Cambridge will most likely see only one dispensary approved for business in the city.

A dispensary in Cambridge would cover about 2,000 to 3,000 patients from the region, totaling at about 30 to 50 customer trips per day – demand too low to sustain two dispensaries over the span of a 10-hour workday, Murphy estimated.

Two applicants looking to set up shop in Cambridge have been approved to go on to Phase 2 approval: Cynthia Crooks-Garcia of Common Wellness and physician and cancer survivor Karen Munkacy of Garden Remedies. With support from Joseph Skenderian, who withdrew an application, Munkacy voiced her interest in a Cambridge location at the board meeting and commended Cambridge “for addressing the subject in a positive, patient-centered manner.”

Phase 2 approvals are expected to be complete by early next year. Since location approval is needed to get a license from the state, Cambridge can’t delay. On Dec. 3, a presentation of the draft public health regulations will be up for review and approval, followed by adoption of the zoning petition by Jan. 20. Otherwise the moratorium will continue until June 30.