Town Ponders Zoning To Address New Marijuana Law

Barnstable town officials are considering using zoning to help address the impact of the new medical marijuana law on the town.

Town council president Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville said Tuesday that an item may be placed on the council’s December 6 agenda referring the matter to the Barnstable Planning Board, a necessary step for any modification of zoning.In the November 6 election, Massachusetts voters passed a referendum to legalize marijuana for medical treatment.

The law takes effect January 1.

Both Mr. Chirigotis and Barnstable Police Chief Paul B. MacDonald said the town has received no guidance from the state concerning protocols on how to deal with the new law.

Both said federal law continues to prohibit possession of marijuana.

At the town council’s November 15 meeting, a number of councilors expressed concern about what the new law could mean in Barnstable.

Questions still to be answered, Mr. Chirigotis said, include “what kind of control can you have? Where can you have it?”

He said Barnstable may not be able to ban medical marijuana dispensaries but that Massachusetts case law has upheld reasonable accommodations and reasonable controls on specific uses.

“Whatever the law is, we’ll find a way for the town to comply with it,” Mr. Chirigotis said Tuesday. “We want to get a legal measure as soon as we can.”

According to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office, the new law eliminates state criminal and civil penalties for the medical use of marijuana.

To qualify, according to the office, a patient must have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV-positive status or AIDS, or multiple sclerosis.

The patient would have to obtain a written certification from a physician with whom the patient has a physician-patient relationship that the patient has such a condition and would obtain a net benefit from medical use of marijuana.

The law would allow patients to obtain up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for their personal medical use, with the state Department of Public Health determining what amount would constitute a 60-day supply.

The patient could obtain marijuana from a treatment center.

In 2013, the law would allow 35 treatment centers in the state, with at least one but no more than five centers in each county.

The law also allows patients who would have difficulty going to a treatment center to grow their own 60-day supply.

Passage of the new law raised a red flag at the November 15 town council meeting.

Town councilor Ann B. Canedy of Barnstable Village said she had spoken with the town attorney earlier that day on the matter.

“I wanted to ask the council to get engaged in this subject because it is potentially a nightmare for public health, for our prosecutors, for our police officers, for our neighborhoods and our town,” Ms. Canedy said at the meeting.

“For instance, in California, when that was passed, almost immediately overnight in Los Angeles, 1,000 ‘dispensaries’ literally popped up overnight and the city was unprepared for it because there was no regulation…” the councilor said.

Ms. Canedy said although the council was about to consider a series of ordinances regulating neighborhood conditions, “this is about to sneak in the back door.”

She said she would hate to see dispensaries on Main Street in Hyannis, or in Barnstable Village.

Mr. Chirigotis replied, “Just to let you know, I met today with the town manager, the assistant town manager, and legal staff. I think we actually need to have a meeting exactly whether or not there’s a zoning way to organize or control [medical marijuana dispensaries]… we need to do that relatively quickly and that’s the plan.”

The town council president said the town needs to determine whatever legal means are available “to make sure we get a handle on this before it gets a handle on us.”

Town council vice president Janice L. Barton of Marstons Mills said she would support a proactive effort to deal with the medical marijuana issue.

But town councilor James M. Tinsley Jr. of Hyannis, who said funding could be obtained from the state regarding substance abuse, also sounded a note of caution.

Mr. Tinsley, taking a page from a homeless man who spoke earlier that night to the council, said the council should not group abusers and legitimate users together.

“When you talk about people who might need to use the law that passed, you can’t group them all together,” the councilor said.

He spoke of a woman he knows who has had 17 back surgeries.

Mr. Tinsley said her physician told her that her only chance to avoid addiction to narcotic painkillers was to move to a state that had legalized medical marijuana.

“While I do agree we don’t want these things popping up everywhere, there is the possibility for abuse in everything,” Mr. Tinsley said. “Liquor stores are legal and look at the amount of alcohol abuse in our community, but no one’s jumping up to have a committee about where that can go.”

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