Edgartown voters have agreed to give the town one year to consider how to permit medical marijuana. They were smart to do so.
In Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, a similar decision, which would have required a two-thirds vote to amend each town’s zoning bylaw, achieved a majority of voter support but not the required supermajority, so the proposed amendments failed.
This page is not convinced that medicinal marijuana is a safe and effective palliative, though anecdotal evidence suggests it may be, but there is substantial reason to think that the introduction of medicinal marijuana dispensaries will encourage the expanded use of marijuana for recreational purposes among the general population, and especially the young. Should that be the case, it will be a deplorable outcome for a heedless public decision.
State regulators will before long promulgate rules to be used by communities to implement the dispensary law. That 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. Regulators are late in meeting that deadline. Some Vineyard towns are hostile, at least preliminarily, to the notion of dispensaries within their borders, despite the disproportionate enthusiasm of Island voters for medicinal marijuana. 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 dispensaries, even in states that allow them.
Towns ought to allow time for themselves to absorb the concept and create a structure for permitting, locating, and controlling such dispensary operations. The towns and county government should consider together how the Vineyard community will match the legal obligation to allow dispensaries with the realistic capabilities of the towns and the county to oversee and regulate them.
The towns certainly have the authority to impose such moratoriums, and there are eminently reasonable justifications for the action. The state regulatory structure is not yet 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.
Such a temporary zoning restriction to give the towns time to decide whether and how to allow such uses under its zoning rules is a valuable tool, and the results of votes in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury this annual meeting season suggest that there is reason to return to the voters to ask again for their endorsement.