Massachusetts Municipalities Anxiously Await Medical Marijuana Regulations

Massachusetts Municipalities Anxiously Await Medical Marijuana Regulations

Zoning seems to be the main concern. As long as the dispensaries are “managed properly” there shouldn’t be any problems other than where they are located.

As Massachusetts prepares itself for the green rush of medical marijuana, the tiny little town of Pittsfield and its city officials remain fearful of just how medical marijuana will be distributed amongst the states patients. With fingers crossed, the city officials are anxiously awaiting the state to draft useful regulations governing medical marijuana collectives.

Massachusetts residents overwhelmingly approved the medical cannabis ballot question thispast November. The new law will allow up to 35 medical pot shops statewide, allocating at least 1 nonprofit in each county. Medical marijuana shall only be attainable through a doctor’s prescription.

As far as the reluctant city officials of Pittsfield are concerned, the law leaves unanswered several important questions for the state’s health officials; zoning issues and law enforcement mandates. As the city officials wait for the DPH’s mmj guidelines on cultivation and distrabution to be drafted and published, they are anxiously keeping their eyes on the press, looking for any signs of progress.

“We’ve been in touch with the Attorney General’s office to see what advice they can give us. What we want to do is position ourselves so we can be ready to consider and put in place some zoning ordinances,” Mayor Daniel Bianchi said. “Right now, I have a guarded concern but I’ve got to learn more about how it has impacted other states.”

For the mayor, zoning seems to be the main concern. As long as the dispensaries are “managed properly” there shouldn’t be any problems other than where they are located, he said.

That echoes concerns Gale LaBelle, who represents Becket in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, brought to that committee a month ago. Becket does not have zoning and she hoped for some advice from her fellow commissioners about restricting them. Some cities and towns in eastern Mass have attempted to outright ban a dispensary.

DPH’s regulations are not expected until May, which is after most of the county’s smallercommunities hold town meetings, so there could be a lag of almost a year before voters could approve zoning bylaws regulating medical pot collectives and there locations.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association is petitioning DPH to delay the regulations to allow municipalities to craft local legislation.

Officials in the town of Adams said they had an individual inquire about opening a dispensaries but without the guidelines, the town could not provide them any information.

Meanwhile, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn is getting legal briefings almost daily about the status of the regulations. The law will create an added difficulty for the patrol officers, he said.

With the passage of a decriminalization bill just a few years ago, determining the exact charge, if any, is more complicated.

“It’s going to come down to individual patrol officers making decisions in the field,” Wynn said.
For example, when an officer is at a scene they will now have to first determine if the offender has a registration for marijuana. If so, the officer then has to weigh it to make sure it is not more than a 60-day supply. Exactly what a 60-day supply is, is still pending, Wynn said. If the offender does not have a registration card, then the officer will need to measure quantity to determine if the charge is criminal or civil.

But the unanswered questions doesn’t end there for law enforcement. Wynn said he is awaiting word on the databases of registered users. Currently, police do not know what the registration cards will look like and to which database will be used to verify.

“There is just no clear picture. I don’t know what to expect,” Wynn said, adding that there are no other communities to compare to because the states that have passed the law have different statutes.

He hopes the Department of Public Heath will implement a database through a portal the department already has access.

The officers will also need additional training. Wynn also said he has concerns about an increase of crimes against registered users and security of a dispensary.