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.
Reading, Wakefield and Melrose Board of Health Director Ruth Clay was a guest speaker Tuesday at the Wakefield Rotary Club meeting to discuss a warrant article on Wakefield's fall 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.
Reading's Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) met Monday to look at the language that would amend both the definition and table of uses section of the zoning bylaw to keep dispensaries out of Reading. According to Staff Planner Jessie Wilson, the CPDC was fine with the language and they will hold a public hearing on Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m., which will decide if the changes will be presented at Reading's fall town meeting.
“We want to be prepared to respond to this if these bills pass,” Wilson said.
Reading's town meeting will take place in November.
"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 in Wakefield, 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 dispensary next to your business. Probably not." Clay told the Wakefield Rotary members.