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Hingham Town Meeting to vote on yearlong medical marijuana moratorium

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 21, 2013 12:13 PM

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A yearlong moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries will be debated at Hingham’s Town Meeting with the support of selectmen.

The moratorium would last until June 2014, and would allow the town to review the yet-to-be-released state guidelines before imposing their own.

“The purpose is to allow the town to carefully study the impacts of medical marijuana treatment centers and thoughtfully recommend zoning amendments and ordinances if necessary to address the town’s concerns,” said Mary Savage Dunham, director of community planning.

The moratorium also has the support of the Planning Board and Advisory Board.

Town Meeting, which starts April 22, will be the final hurdle for the mandate, which would give the town just enough time to pass its own regulations by the April 2014 Town Meeting.

“They feel given the state regulations are supposed to be out the beginning of May, that will give them time to see what comes out and react if needed by next Town Meeting, and our next town meeting is April 2014,'' Dunham said.

According to Town Administrator Ted Alexiades, a moratorium is a good compromise between the voters’ desire to bring medical marijuana into town and the town’s desire to do so thoughtfully.

“A moratorium is reasonable. An outright ban is unconstitutional,” Alexiades said, referencing a recent decision by the state attorney general prohibiting towns from banning the facilities.

Selectmen Chair Laura Burns compared the ordinance to that of cell phone towers, while Alexiades compared it to the zoning for adult entertainment. In both cases, the activities have a legal right to exist somewhere.

“Voters spoke very loudly. No one is looking to disrespect the voters’ will, but there are unintended consequences for the state to do that,” Alexiades said. “Prudence would suggest a moratorium. An outright ban, [like] when we went through adult zoning, unfortunately, it’s unconstitutional.”

Approximately 60 percent of the town’s voters were supportive of medical marijuana dispensaries, which were passed by popular vote statewide in November.

Dunham didn’t expect the moratorium to be controversial at Town Meeting, especially because the town was still being open to welcoming dispensaries with conditions.

“They are just saying they want to make a reasoned [review] of the state regulations before they decide if any action is needed for Hingham,” Dunham said. “It doesn’t seem to be that controversial here. It’s not as if the proposal is to ban it…it’s more a 'Let's just wait and see and then decide.' ”

Hingham joins several other communities looking at a moratorium of the facilities until the state releases some kind of guidelines, which are expected to be released by May 1.

The regulations will also be put out for public comment.

Dunham wasn’t sure if Hingham would actively participate in the public comment period, but said the Planning Board would definitely look at the draft.

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