Ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Incompatible With State Law

Reading Town Meeting voted to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from coming to town, but the Attorney General does not approve.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that towns in this state, including Reading, cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries, according to BostonHerald.com. Towns can, however, use zoning rules to keep dispensaries in a certain area.

Even though Reading voters supported the ballot question on election day by just under 60 percent, Reading Town Meeting voted 113-39 last November to prohibit any future medical marijuana treatment center from opening in town.

The town will have to rethink that strategy.

According to Wakefield Patch, Coakley ruled that a zoning ban on medical marijuana dispensaries approved at their Town Meeting last year conflicts with state law.

"The (law's) legislative purpose could not be served if a municipality could prohibit treatment centers within its borders, for if one municipality could do so, presumably all could do so," Coakley wrote in her decision to reject the Wakefield bylaw.

Health Director for Reading, Melrose and Wakefield Ruth Clay said that Reading and Wakefield will now look at other options, including a temporary moratorium, according to the BostonHerald.com article.

"We were never morally opposed to medical marijuana. We were very concerned about how (the ballot question) was written, with a lot of opportunity for abuse," Clay said.

Coakley did approve a bylaw adopted in Burlington that places a moratorium on dispensaries, according to BostonHerald.com, similar to the one recently proposed in North Reading that would temporarily prevent anyone from licensing a dispensary in town.

Reading Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner said he was disappointed in Coakley's decision.

"I understand the Attorney General’s opinion, but the town has felt that it is appropriate to regulate and/or prohibit these dispensaries under the town’s zoning powers, just as we regulate other uses throughout the community," he said.

He noted that the town has other options, including:

  • Appeal the decision
  • Not regulate dispensaries
  • Impose a moratorium for a year
  • Regulate dispensaries by controlling what zoning districts they are permitted in

"We will have to have a discussion among all stakeholders within the next few weeks and determine how the community wants to proceed," Hechenbleikner said.

Charles March 15, 2013 at 12:25 PM
Here is a thought - maybe get the language cleared by the AG ahead of time????? June 1st can't come quick enough.
SBZZ March 15, 2013 at 12:38 PM
It is a prudent thing that the Atty. General does not allow cities and towns to ban 'certain' legitimate businesses. To make medical marijuana unavailable, is to mitigate the purpose of the law that passed by a large majority of the voters.
highflyer March 15, 2013 at 02:14 PM
We certainly could use the tax revenue from one of these dispensaries. There are quite a few projects around town that could use the revenue, but why would we want to do that when they can just raise our taxes.
Rob March 15, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I think we were very hypocritcal voting overwhelmingly to legalize it, but then voting to ban it in Reading. But it does bring up an interesting point. If a town can ban Alcohol (there are dry towns in MA) or bottled water, then why couldn't they ban Marijuana sales? All are legal products.
Karl Weld March 15, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Electronic billboards are a certain legitimate business that state law allows as well, but that didn't stop Reading from prohibiting those either. The AG is not applying the law in a very consistent manner. BTW, I bring this up as another example, not to rehash the debate.
Sean March 15, 2013 at 04:52 PM
How about paying attention to Federal laws. Marijuana and Illegal aliens are fine in Massachusetts?
highflyer March 15, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Sean, a lot of people in our country like the idea of States' rights.
Ron Powell March 16, 2013 at 05:10 AM
Rehash the debate. I see what you did there. Karl, in her ruling, the Attorney General stated that the outright ban conflicted with the statute, which ensures reasonable access to marijuana treatment centers. There is no corresponding statute which ensures reasonable access to electronic billboards. Reading did not "ban" electronic billboards -- the one on Walkers Brook Drive is still there. Your link between the billboard issue on West Street and medical marijuana dispensaries is very tenuous.
Laura Savage-Carr March 17, 2013 at 04:52 PM
There's always the "dispensary" up on Oakland Road.


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