The right choice for West Tisbury

— Photo by Kristófer Rabasca

Edgartown voters agreed to give the town one year to consider how to permit medical marijuana. They were smart to do so. West Tisbury voters ought to do the same when they meet Tuesday.

As we’ve written before, this page is not convinced that medicinal marijuana is a safe and effective palliative, though anecdotal evidence suggests it may be. 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. An article, written by Kevin Sabet and published in its spring 2013 newsletter by NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, which represents the professional interests of more than 75,000 addiction counselors, educators, and other addiction-focused health care professionals in the United States, Canada and abroad, puts the matter this way: “At present in California, and in several other states, it is widely recognized that the reality of the ‘medical use’ of marijuana is highly questionable. For payment of a small cash sum, almost anyone can obtain a physician’s ‘recommendation’ to purchase, possess, and use marijuana for alleged medical purposes. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that the most customers of these dispensaries do not suffer from chronic, debilitating conditions such as HIV/AIDS or cancer.”

Medicinal marijuana dispensaries, now enshrined in Massachusetts law, have significant and varied effects on big cities, even whole states. They will certainly have a disproportionately large influence on the small Island towns in which they are opened. Each town deserves to give its planners time to come to grips with this new use, never before contemplated by the residents who developed municipal planning and zoning rules.

Vineyard towns have been hostile, at least preliminarily, to the notion of dispensaries within their borders, despite the startling enthusiasm demonstrated by Island voters for medicinal marijuana. Some of the 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.

West Tisbury voters will have the opportunity to properly consider the introduction of medicinal marijuana dispensaries in their town if they adopt the following zoning bylaw amendment: “A time-limited restriction, or moratorium, on the establishment of [dispensaries] in West Tisbury will provide the opportunity to the town to study and consider the impact they will have on adjacent uses and on the general public health, safety, and welfare.” It’s the smart choice.