Last year, Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana by wide margins, yet a third of the state’s communities are fighting against the pot dispensaries that will soon be opening.
Now, state officials have put a key limit on how far those municipalities can go toward blocking or delaying weed shops.
Trying To Shut Down Legal Pot Shops
The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative passed in November 2012 with 63 percent support. Almost every county in the state backed the initiative. Yet soon after, towns, cities and counties began banning the dispensaries that were approved by the law.
In March the state attorney general stepped in and ruled those municipalities can’t prohibit pot shops under the medical marijuana law. They may, however, use temporary moratoriums in order to draft new zoning regulations for the dispensaries.
Until Sept. 18, there was no set limit on how long those moratoriums could last. Then, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley announced that the end of next year was as long as the state would allow.
The decision came as part of a ruling on a moratorium requested by the Town of Dartmouth. The town requested a ban ending Dec. 4, 2013, which the attorney general’s office approved.
Time Based Zoning Restrictions
“However, we cannot presently see how a moratorium that extends beyond December 31, 2014 would be considered reasonable,” Hurley wrote.
She cited Sturges v. Chilmark, a 1980 zoning case on Martha’s Vineyard. That case established the right of municipalities to set “reasonable” time-based zoning restrictions while they engage in comprehensive planning studies, as long as those restrictions aren’t arbitrary and have a substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare.
Earlier this month, Hurley rejected a moratorium passed by the Town of Canton, which would have lasted until June 30, 2015.
“We recognize that every town’s planning needs are different, and that some towns have professional planning staff while other towns rely solely upon volunteer planning board members,” she wrote.
Marijuana Dispensary Growth
“Even in light of these varying planning needs and capacities, it is reasonable to expect a town to complete its planning process for the limited (albeit new and complex) use of [dispensaries] by December 30, 2014, a full 19 months after publication of the DPH regulation,” she wrote, referring to the Department of Public Health.
More than 180 applications have been filed for dispensary licenses. Only 35 will be accepted, with between one and five mandated in each county. The first stage of the application process, currently coming to a close, subjects each applicant to a criminal background check and a financial inquiry.
In the next stage, the state will determine which applicants can provide adequate security and adequate healthcare services for patients. Community support for each dispensary proposal will also be gauged.