AG issues ruling on local regulation of marijuana centers

Massachusetts towns may adopt bylaws regulating the location of marijuana treatment centers within municipal borders and may enact temporary moratoriums on the development of such centers. Towns are not permitted to ban such dispensaries, according to a decision announced Wednesday by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The attorney general ruled that a ban adopted in Wakefield conflicted with the 2012 ballot law legalizing access to medical marijuana. “That law’s purpose cannot be served if a municipality were to prohibit treatment centers within its borders, for if one municipality were allowed to do so, all could do so, making reasonable access impossible,” the attorney general’s office said in announcing the decision.

Ms. Coakley also issued a decision Wednesday approving a bylaw in the town of Burlington, that imposed a moratorium on marijuana treatment centers until June 30, 2014, pending further study of zoning issues. Ms. Coakley said the moratorium was consistent with the town’s authority to impose reasonable time limits on development while studies are conducted and the implications of developing state regulations are considered.

Cheryl Bartlett, interim deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health, told the state Public Health Council Wednesday that draft regulations will be filed March 29, opening up a public comment period. On April 10, the council will deliberate over the draft regulations and a public hearing will be held on April 19, according to the timeline outlined by Bartlett.

A council vote on final regulations is planned for May 8 and if adopted, the regulations would go into effect on May 24. “In addition to respecting the instruction of the voters, we feel it is important to put forward these regulations into the public domain as quickly as possible, so as to allow prospective medical marijuana treatment center applicants sufficient time to study our regulations prior to engaging in a competitive application process this summer and fall,” Ms. Bartlett said in a statement to the council.

Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are expected to present regulations governing medical marijuana to voters at annual town meeting.