A number of Massachusetts communities are making it very difficult for medical marijuana providers to do business in the state, the entrepreneurs warned Oct. 10.
At a two-hour meeting with officials from the state Department of Public Health, prospective pot providers complained it has become nearly impossible to find legally acceptable locations for their dispensaries. More than 130 municipalities across the state have enacted temporary moratoriums that tightly limit where weed shops can locate, at least for now.
More than 400 people showed up at the event, the only formal public session on the matter before the Nov. 21 deadline for final applications to obtain medical marijuana licenses. The first round of applications attracted more than 180; more than 150 cleared the initial background check and financial inquiry.
The second stage of the application process requires that each applicant provide a location for the proposed dispensary. Fotis Loulourgas, CEO of a non-profit that is seeking a medical pot license, asked state officials whether they would be strict in requiring a definite address.
“If that’s the case, we are all looking at the same five buildings,” Loulourgas said.
The key problem seems to be the lag time between the application process, which is ongoing, and the moratoriums imposed by cities and towns scattered across Massachusetts, many of which won’t end until well into 2014.
The medical marijuana law mandates at least one dispensary in each of the state’s 14 counties, with a maximum of five in each county and a statewide limit of 35. Many towns and cities, like those in California and Colorado, want to ban cannabis completely, but the law, as interpreted by state Attorney General Martha Coakley, doesn’t allow that.
Instead, Coakley said the municipalities may prohibit dispensaries temporarily, for up to one year. During that time, they can enact zoning regulations to deal with their new marijuana dispensaries, but they cannot bar them outright. That, she said, would defeat the purpose of the medical pot law approved by voters last year.
Madeleine Biondolillo, director for the Department of Public Health, told The Republic, a Massachusetts newspaper, the state is aware of dispensary siting concerns but can’t interfere with local authority.
“DPH certainly wants to ensure that the applicants do the best job that they can to ensure they are communicating the value of what they want to provide to a community,” Biondolillo said. “But there is nothing DPH can do to change the local oversight, the local control.”
Voters passed the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative by 63 percent in 2012. Only two communities, Lawrence and Mendon, voted against it, yet even some municipalities that voted heavily in favor of medicinal pot have instituted short-term bans.