Edgartown grapples with medical marijuana law.

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

Edgartown selectmen Monday began work on a bylaw that would prohibit the use of medical marijuana in any public place, and they agreed to explore a moratorium on any dispensaries or growing facilities, until town officials can form a plan to regulate them.

Selectmen invited members of the planning board, board of health, and police department to their regular meeting to discuss how to manage implementation of the medical marijuana law that took effect January 1.

“We want to have things set up so we can proceed in a timely manner, but time isn’t there,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.

The new law, passed by initiative petition by a wide majority of voters, charges the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) with creating regulations by May 1 to govern who can use, grow, and sell medical marijuana. Until the DPH issues those regulations, the law allows anyone with a recommendation from a doctor to use marijuana to treat a serious illness, and grow up to a 60-day supply.

Speaking to various town regulatory board members at Monday’s meeting, selectman Art Smadbeck said he would support a moratorium.

“Because the state hasn’t issued any rules, you haven’t had a chance to discuss it at the board level,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “You will probably want to kick that around, you will probably want to have public hearings. There is just way, way, way too much that has to be done. I’m feeling quite overwhelmed by this, and feeling a terrible lack of information.”

The Dukes County Health Council Youth Task Force supports a moratorium for all Island towns.

“It’s wide open right now,” task force member Mike Joyce said. “If things aren’t in place, you’re going to get sued. There’s enough money behind this project, and it’s not necessarily from in state. You will get sued.”

Planning board chairman Alan Wilson cautioned that the town needs to be proactive in its approach. “My observation is that many of the states that started out with medical marijuana, within a year or two, it becomes recreational marijuana,” he said. “Los Angeles has 600 dispensaries. It’s a joke.”

The new law limits the number of dispensaries to five in any county, and requires at least one in every county.

Many town officials called for quick action on a public consumption bylaw, that would closely mirror the current bylaws prohibiting public drinking.

“That’s something we want to do sooner rather than later,” police Chief Tony Bettencourt said. “The small percentage of people that will abuse it, we want to take care of that.”

Health agent Matt Poole said regulating public consumption should come in the form of a bylaw, not a board of health regulation.

“I would make it with some authority for police to enforce it,” Mr. Poole said. “No matter what we do on the storefront side of things, you still need to get a public consumption regulation together.”

Town administrator Pam Dolby supported a regional approach, so new regulations will be uniform in each Island town. She said she will contact other towns, including West Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury, where selectmen are also considering new bylaws.

The Youth Task Force urged selectmen to attend one of the information gathering sessions organized by DPH. The sessions are scheduled for February 13 in Worcester, February 14 in Boston, and February 27 in Holyoke. Each speaker will be allowed three minutes to comment.