Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana in 2012, and the law is currently being enacted. But in much of the state, patients and providers are running into long delays as local communities try to keep pot away for as long as they can.
An analysis by the State House News Service determined that at least 115 municipalities in the state had passed temporary moratoriums on medicinal cannabis dispensaries. Other communities may do the same.
The pattern in Massachusetts reflects that in other states, such as California and Colorado, where cities and counties have used bans, moratoriums and zoning regulations to prevent pot shops from opening.
In the Bay State, however, the attorney general has ruled that municipalities cannot ban dispensaries outright. The most they can do is prohibit them temporarily while they put zoning restrictions in place to limit the neighborhoods where shops may operate.
“Personally, I am against it in my city, but since we can’t not permit, we have to make sure that we zone it in certain locations,” said Lawrence City Council Member Frank Moran.
Voters in all but two communities in Massachusetts supported the medical marijuana initiative in November. Lawrence and Bellingham were the only municipalities that voted against it. Lawrence has already taken steps to zone dispensaries into an area reserved for adult entertainment.
“The City of Lawrence, they spoke very loud and clear,” Moran said. “They don’t want it in the city.”
But opponents of the ballot measure aren’t the only ones stalling the program. In Williamsburg, near several colleges, almost 80 percent of voters backed medical marijuana. Yet the town has enacted a one-year moratorium, set to end next summer, so the Planning Board can craft new rules.
“We just wanted to make sure we had enough time with volunteers meeting only twice a month, to do this in a thoughtful manner,” said Charlene Nardi, Williamsburg town administrator. “There’s no desire to not allow them.”
According to the news agency, moratoriums are in place in about one third of Massachusetts’ municipalities. The state’s largest city, Boston, has not enacted a moratorium, though it has zoned dispensaries out of residential neighborhoods.
Reasons for Moratoriums
Matthew Allen, director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, told the News Service he thinks local officials are reacting to unfounded worries about the effects of pot shops in their communities.
“I think those moratoriums are an indication of a lot of misperceptions of the dispensary system,” Allen said. “I think it is appropriate for local municipalities to have a voice in the siting of dispensaries. Over the next few months, we’re going to see a lot of discussions at the local level.”
Applications for licenses were submitted in August and are undergoing review. There were more than 180 applicants, while the law allows for no more than five dispensaries in each of 14 counties.