Sunday, May 19, 2024



City councillor Minka vanBeuzekom called for a vote on medical marijuana districts Monday, after momentum for a vote seemed to be dying.

The city nearly saw a new delay on medical marijuana dispensaries result from City Council debate on Monday, the last council meeting of the year and of a two-year term. But Minka vanBeuzekom, in her final public moments in office, instead called for a vote and got the city to take action.

The council approved two Medical Marijuana Overlay Districts, one in Alewife and the other in NorthPoint, by an 8-0 vote. Councillor Ken Reeves abstained from voting.

As the council worked its way slowly through a series of small amendments to city plans for the overlay districts and the likely single marijuana dispensary business that would find a home in one of them, it began looking more likely that members would adopt the small changes but bump the larger zoning decision to next year and a new council.

“This is important enough that maybe people who come in the next term should take a bite at this too,” said Reeves, for whom this was a last council meeting as well – but after 24 years on the council, rather than vanBeuzekom’s two. He said he wouldn’t vote on the issue, since he hadn’t attended any meetings going over the proposed zoning in detail.

Councillor calls the question

But vanBeuzekom, who had followed the issue, felt it was time to act.

“It’s an important thing. Medicinal marijuana is truly something that helps people who are in deep pain, and I would very much like to be part of the council that created the opportunity for medicinal marijuana to be located here,” vanBeuzekom said. “As most of my colleagues may know, the residents of Cambridge voted overwhelmingly to accept medicinal marijuana.”

Nearly three-quarters of Cambridge voters backed a ballot proposal for medical marijuana – 10 percentage points over the 63 percent statewide average at the November 2012 elections. The law allowing dispensaries became law as of Jan. 1, but a lack of state Department of Public Health rules delayed implementation, and Cambridge officials put in place an additional months-long moratorium to allow the city to adapt state rules and zoning for their own use. Far from displaying a sense of urgency or acknowledging the large numbers of Cambridge voters expressing their will, councillors didn’t even comment when then-City Manager Robert W. Healy referred repeatedly to not allowing a dispensary at all.

In the year since, vanBeuzekom noted, the city’s approach to medical marijuana dispensaries and their new zoning has been examined repeatedly at meetings of the council, its Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board.

“I think this is an example of us going forward at a fairly reasonable pace in order to bring something important to the residents of Cambridge,” vanBeuzekom said. “We’ve had a lot of discussion about whether these are appropriate, and I think we should go forward.”

Amendment of business uncertainty

The amendments upon amendments heard Monday were complicated enough that even the councillors had trouble following which had been approved and which still had to be dealt with. At one point the meeting took a brief recess so the mayor, city clerk and City Solicitor Nancy Glowa could huddle and figure out what was happening.

The amendments passed with six of the nine councillors voting in favor – Craig Kelley and Mayor Henrietta Davis were opposed, and Reeves abstained from voting –  before the final zoning passed with eight in favor.

While voters awaiting a medical marijuana dispensary were spared another moratorium or at least a wait until after the holidays, when a new council is seated, the council did approve an amendment strangely hostile to an incoming pot business, which among other restrictions has to be sited far from any place where children might gather: eliminating grandfathering in case a child-focused business decides to move in.

Instead, when the Planning Board looks at renewing a dispensary’s special permit as it expires after a year, two years or three, a business could be forced to move just because a child-focused business moved in after it did. The state’s licenses last only a year.

The city has no actual definition for the kind of business that might force a marijuana dispensary to move, said Jeff Roberts, a staff project planner with the Community Development Department.

The state has “erred toward taking a conservative view,” Roberts said.