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Attorney General sets limits on town medical marijuana bans

Posted by Your Town  September 21, 2013 08:34 AM

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Having rejected a medical marijuana moratorium that would have extended into 2015 and approved a moratorium that ends in December 2014, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has developed a cut-off point for towns that want to extend temporary moratoriums on the fledgling industry.

Since voters approved a medical marijuana initiative petition in November 2012 and the Department of Public Health in May adopted regulations for establishing marijuana dispensaries, about a third of the state’s cities and towns have enacted temporary moratoriums designed to provide more time to develop new zoning and other regulations.

On Wednesday, the AG’s Municipal Law Unit chief, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley, gave approval to the town of Dartmouth for a moratorium extending until Dec. 4, 2013.

“However, we cannot presently see how a moratorium that extends beyond December 31, 2014 would be considered reasonable,” Hurley wrote, citing a 1980 case Sturges v. Chilmark, which involved zoning on Martha’s Vineyard.

The AG’s office has previously ruled that towns cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries because that is contrary to the state law passed on a ballot referendum.

On Sept. 12, Hurley denied a bylaw passed by Canton Town Meeting, which would have ended June 30, 2015. “We recognize that every town’s planning needs are different, and that some towns have professional planning staff while other towns rely solely upon volunteer planning board members. Even in light of these varying planning needs and capacities, it is reasonable to expect a town to complete its planning process for the limited (albeit new and complex) use of [registered marijuana dispensaries] by December 30, 2014, a full 19 months after publication of the DPH regulations,” Hurley wrote.

Towns are required to submit their bylaw changes to the AG for approval. Cities do not have to undergo an AG review for their ordinances.

- A. Metzger/SHNS

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