Local Officials Working To Head Off Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
Competing warrant articles at Wakefield's fall town meeting would permit medical marijuana dispensaries in town, or try to rezone them out.
On Election Day this year, Massachusetts voters will consider a ballot proposal that would allow medical marijuana sales in the state. While it remains to be seen if the measure will actually pass, some implications are already being weighed at the local level.
Wakefield Board of Health Director Ruth Clay was a guest speaker Tuesday at the Wakefield Rotary Club meeting to discuss a warrant article on this fall's town meeting ballot seeking to allow an organization to run a medical marijuana dispensary in town. Clay said that the state ballot initiative would allow five such operations in each Massachusetts county and that Wakefield came up as a potential location in good part because of its open town meeting law. Clay noted that Reading and Melrose, where she is also the health director, are currently working on their own zoning bylaw initiatives that aim to effectively ban medical marijuana dispensaries. Town meeting is on Nov. 15.
"The concept here is to have all of us working on it at the same time," she said. "It will quite frankly take some of the heat off of the politicians because the other group can't be everywhere at the same time."
Basically, Wakefield voters will be asked to weigh two competing initiatives at the Nov. 15 town meeting. One would ask the town to allow a medical marijuana dispensary to open up, provided that the state ballot initiative actually passes on election night. The other one would revise the local zoning laws to effectively ban medical marijuana facilities in town.
While it's unlikely that this will happen, the very presence of two competing articles on the town warrant raises the possibility that both could end up passing. If this happens, Clay was unsure whether the re-zoning would trump the initiative seeking to open a facility in Wakefield. At least one attorney in the audience noted that the town would have to be able to demonstrate from a legal standpoint that it did not revise its zoning in order to preclude a specific business.
"I believe we are allowed to out-zone it period. There's no constitutional right to have marijuana dispensaries," said Clay, adding that "It's all been vetted through (local town counsels)."
Clay indicated that the local measure was spearheaded by Carl Swanson, an area resident who apparently leads an organization called the National Organization For Positive Medicine that has undertaken some similar efforts elsewhere in the country. The organization appears to be seeking the right to sell marijuana itself as opposed to getting blanket approval for other such enterprises. A 2008 article on another website talked a bit about Swanson's work to get a medical marijuana question on the town ballot in Ferndale, Michigan that year.
The effort for the statewide initiative to allow medical marijuana is run by the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, whose website can be viewed here. The full text of the statewide initiative petition can be viewed at this link.
For the state question on the November ballot, Clay said that one particular concern is language that mentions "any other medical condition," which she said opens the door for anyone to get a card for treatment for something as minor as athlete's foot. A text search on the previously mentioned statewide petition did not turn up that specific phrase but below is text from the actual proposal.
"'Medical use of marijuana' shall mean the acquisition, cultivation, possession, processing, (including development of related products such as food, tinctures, aerosols, oils, or ointments), transfer, transportation, sale, distribution, dispensing, or administration of marijuana, for the benefit of qualifying patients in the treatment of debilitating medical conditions, or the symptoms thereof," states the ballot petition, specifically defining "debilitating medical conditions" as "Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician."
During her presentation, Clay emphasized her own opposition to the state and local medical marijuana initiatives, citing public health and safety concerns and warning the many business owners in the room at Harrington's that a dispensary in downtown or elsewhere would be bad for the local business climate.
"These dispensaries bring other drug dealers to the area," said Clay, adding that such a facility in Wakefield would also contribute to higher crime rates and perhaps even more fire danger from the lights used by marijuana growing operations. "I'm not sure... whether it would be a great idea to have that dispensory next to your business. Probably not." Clay told the Wakefield Rotary members.
Wakefield Police Chief Richard Smith also expressed his opposition to the idea of bringing a medical marijuana operation to town. "Our issue I think we would sum it up is quality of life," said the Chief, acknowledging that there is a "very good chance" the statewide referendum will pass. "I don't care where it goes, but as long as it's not here," he added.
Another Rotary member, Maryesther Fournier, owner of Smith Drug in Wakefield, said that those who operate the dispensaries have nowhere near the level of training that pharmacy professionals have. She noted that even under the present system, addicts shopping for doctors and causing trouble in stories are very common, adding that "God only knows who these people are" who would be running the dispensary.