Pembroke selectmen are expected to seek a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in town after a bylaw they proposed to restrict the location of such facilities was at least temporarily derailed by Planning Board action last week.
Greg Hanley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said a majority of the panel is leaning toward proposing the moratorium because it offers a quicker vehicle to protect the town from a possible medical marijuana facility than reaching consensus on a bylaw.
“It would buy us more time,” he said, noting that the town could work on the bylaw while the moratorium is in effect.
The state ballot question legalizing medical marijuana that voters approved last November allows for up to 35 nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers to grow and provide the marijuana. The state Department of Public Health is required to develop regulations governing the dispensaries by May 1, though state officials said last month they are unable to make that deadline due to the complexity of the issue.
Pembroke is among the latest of many communities that, due to public safety concerns, have adopted or are considering bans or restrictions on the locations of dispensaries, or moratoriums to allow more time to put those rules in place.
Quincy city councilors last Monday opted against imposing restrictions on the location of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, but voted instead to consider a nine-month moratorium.
In Brockton, the City Council’s Ordinance Committee is set to continue discussion on Monday of a proposed ordinance restricting the location of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
The Weymouth Town Council is also set to hold a public hearing on the same day on a proposed moratorium that would ban medical marijuana dispensaries through May 1, 2014.
At its meeting March 12, the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled to discuss the possibility of proposing a moratorium.
Outright bans on dispensaries have been adopted in several Massachusetts communities, including Reading and Wakefield last November, and Melrose and Peabody in January.
The issue has become contentious in Pembroke following the derailment of the proposed bylaw last week.
The measure would restrict medical marijuana dispensaries to the town’s existing adult use overlay district, located on the east side of Route 3. It would further bar them from locating within 1,500 feet of a residential district, school, child-care facility, another medical marijuana treatment center, or an alcohol-pouring establishment.
The bylaw was on the warrant of last Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting . But the meeting indefinitely postponed the matter after the Planning Board the previous day continued a public hearing that it had begun that night into the bylaw rather than offer a recommendation to the Special Town Meeting. The hearing was continued until March 11.
Town officials said they were advised by town counsel that without a recommendation from the Planning Board, the Special Town Meeting could not vote on the bylaw.
Brian Van Riper, a Planning Board member who made the motion to continue the public hearing, said he believes the town should wait for the state to issues its rules on medical marijuana dispensaries before adopting any restrictions.
But the Planning Board’s decision to continue its hearing drew a sharp rebuke from Hanley, who accused Van Riper of using a “parliamentary procedural maneuver” to prevent Town Meeting from acting on the bylaw.
“The motion was out of order because there was no reason to continue the public hearing. You have to have a substantive reason to continue,” Hanley said.
But Van Riper dismissed the criticism, saying the need to await state regulations on the dispensaries was such a substantive reason.
“Other communities have been looking into this and have not acted because of the same thing,” he said. “We are trying to draft regulations without any guidelines.”
“I don’t think anyone is opposed to regulating any business,” Van Riper said. But, he said, “we have to devise responsible regulations” that both protect the community and respect the will of state residents who voted to allow for medical marijuana use.
Daniel Taylor, chairman of the Planning Board, voted against continuing the hearing. He said he had concerns with some features of the bylaw but that “it deserved an up or down vote from us” that would allow it to go before Town Meeting.
Selectmen were pushing for adoption of a bylaw now, Hanley said, so that the town would not be left exposed to a potential medical marijuana dispensary locating anywhere within its borders. He said, if need be, any bylaw could be revised at a later date to reflect state regulations.
Hanley said his board opted not to seek an outright prohibition on dispensaries on advice from its legal counsel that restricting their location would leave the town less open to a legal challenge than if it instituted a ban.
Selectman Bill Boulter said he would like to keep the town free of medical marijuana treatment centers. But he said he supports the bylaw.
“Unfortunately, it was something passed by the state. We don’t want the dispensaries here, but at least this would put them in a location suitable for the townspeople,” said Boulter, who opposes a moratorium.
Boulter said he would like to see townspeople surveyed to see how they would like to address the dispensary issue.
Town administrator Edwin Thorne said officials are still determining whether a moratorium would need Town Meeting approval. If it does, he said selectmen could place the proposal on the warrant of the Special Town Meeting that will be held within the April 23 annual Town Meeting.