Set aside for a moment the knotty and unsettled questions of whether marijuana is a safe and effective palliative or whether the introduction of medicinal marijuana dispensaries will encourage the expanded use of marijuana for recreational purposes among the general population, and especially the young. Approval of a dispensary law in November by most Massachusetts voters, and by even more enthusiastic majorities on the Vineyard, means that such businesses are imminent, at least one in each county and as many as five.
The state government is obliged by the law to write the rules governing the establishment and operations of such establishments by April 1. Regulators are unlikely to meet that deadline. Vineyard towns are hostile, at least preliminarily, to the notion of dispensaries within their borders, but some of that hostility grows out of uncertainty about what the consequences might be — to each town’s particular culture and its responsibility for law enforcement and regulatory oversight. It’s understandable that they should be, in light of the confusing anecdotal reports of activity surrounding such dispensaries in states that allow them, and of the conflict between federal law that outlaws the businesses and the cultivation of product to be sold in the dispensaries and state laws that allow them.
Edgartown will ask voters whether they will impose a one-year moratorium on the permitting of such dispensaries. The town wants time to absorb the concept and create a structure for permitting, locating, and controlling such dispensary operations. Whether towns have the authority to impose such a moratorium is unclear, as is so much else about the implementation of the new law, but there are reasonable justifications for the action. The state regulatory structure is not in place, and the nature of the medicinal marijuana business is not envisioned among the uses that are enumerated and allowed, by right or by special permit, in town zoning bylaws. A pause while the state figures out how it will implement the medicinal marijuana law and then while the towns incorporate such businesses into their zoning and public health governing structures, seems both sensible and necessary.
“We don’t have any idea what the state is going to do,” Edgartown town administrator Pam Dolby said this week.
MVTimes writer Steve Myrick reports this week that the moratorium would be a temporary zoning restriction to give the town time to decide whether and how to allow such uses under its zoning rules, or not.
On a second front, voters will be asked to prohibit use of medical marijuana, in any form, in public. Police will enforce the prohibition.
Such action by Vineyard towns, while they come to grips with the fact of this new law, seems only wise.