Municipal association calls for delay in medical marijuana law


The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), an advocacy group for local town governments, is urging member cities and towns to consider a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries or growing facilities until state regulators can create regulations to govern them.

The medical marijuana law, enacted by referendum petition on January 1, gives the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) 120 days to create regulations for the use, cultivation, and retail sale of medical marijuana. The law requires DPH to issue licenses for up to 35 nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers within one year. No more than five are allowed in any county, and each county must have at least one treatment center.

The seven towns of Martha’s Vineyard and Gosnold make up Dukes County. The unique geography poses different challenges, according to MMA Executive Director Jeff Beckwith.

“The law does seem to have a disproportionate impact on Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Beckwith said. “It’s not like Middlesex County, which has 54 cities and towns. There is a much higher chance there’s going to be an application for a dispensary, though that’s hard to predict at this time.”

Mr. Beckwith said it is unlikely that DPH can meet its April 1 deadline for creating regulations.

“Most communities in the state hold their town meetings around that time or after that time,” Mr. Beckwith said. “It’s really unfair for cities and towns to write their bylaws or zoning ordinances before even seeing what the regulations look like.”

The law firm of Vicente Sederberg, which represents large medical marijuana companies in other states, recently opened an office in Massachusetts. An attorney said a delay in implementation of the law would be harmful to patients who want to treat serious illnesses with medical marijuana.

“It is our sincere hope that local governments will allow their sick and disabled citizens to access medical marijuana from regulated storefronts, instead of forcing them to purchase their doctor-recommended medicine in alleyways or parks,” attorney Shaleen Title said. “Generally towns have the authority to enact zoning ordinances to regulate any type of business, but our hope is that Massachusetts towns will respect the will of their residents.”

Statewide, 63 percent of voters approved the medical marijuana ballot question. On Martha’s Vineyard, 74 percent of voters backed it.