Burlington Town Meeting voted unanimously last night to approve a , on medical marijuana dispensaries in town.
The moratorium would prohibit any application for a marijuana dispensary until June 30 of 2014.
The rational for the moratorium, explained Planning Director Kirsten Kassner, was to give the town time to come up with regulations and to give the State Department of Public Health time to provide its regulations and recommendations.
According to the law, which was passed as a ballot initiative during the Nov. 6, 2012 election, the Department of Public Health has 120 days to come up with regulations on the state level.
The Planning Board recommended a moratorium, rather than a prohibition, because prohibitions have a history of being successfully challenged when are applied to legal activities.
As explained by Kassner at the Jan. 3 Planning Board meeting, other towns have taken one of three approaches: doing nothing, a moratorium or outright prohibition. However, because voters made the dispensaries legal, she said, there are risks of trying prohibition as such action would likely fail to stand up in court. She said that other towns who have passed rules prohibiting marijuana dispensaries are facing the possibility of those ruling be overturned at the state level.
"Wakefield and Reading went with prohibition and we’ve heard from the Attorney General that the Reading bylaw is already having trouble," she said. "It has been flagged and held."
The same argument about the weakness of prohibition laws was also brought up at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting when Town Administrator John Petrin likened that track to previous moves by communities to block adult entertainment. Those prohibitions were successfully challenged and municipalities found themselves unable to regulate where such entities could open.
There were some questions by Town Meeting members on the necessity of passing the moratorium. One member asked if the vote could be postponed until May, after the regulations from the state are developed and released.
Planning Board Chairman Paul Roth said any delay could open the town to either the possibility of having to approve an application or, at the least, a lawsuit if it fights one. He explained to Burlington Patch after the meeting that despite the state has 120 days to pass regulations, it is still possible for applicants to come forward. He said an applicant could try and argue that a dispensaries should be allowed by right in the general business district because the November election made dispensaries legal.
“This is protection for the town,” he said. “If an application comes in next week they could try and put it anywhere and we’d have to fight it. This is no way diminishes Town Meeting's input."
"I hope you support this," he added, stating that there are a lot of entities who believe this will be a big business. "Do not underestimate the band of attorneys ready to try and get a foot in the door."
There are aspects of the law that the moratorium does not address, Roth explained after the meeting. Those include people purchasing marijuana out of town and bringing it home and people growing marijuana in their homes for personal use. Perhaps most importantly the question of how and if the schools will be able to regulate marijuana use in the schools if a student is prescribed it for medical purposes. Burlington Patch will focus on that question next and will be in contact with school officials for a follow-up.
What do you think? Do you support the moratorium? Do you think Burlington should attempt a prohibition, zoning regulations or simply allow dispensaries? Let us know in the comments below.