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Moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries up for vote at Natick Town Meeting

Posted by Leslie Anderson  April 23, 2013 10:02 AM

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Natick Town Meeting members will congregate Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Natick High School Auditorium for the annual Town Meeting. Town Meeting members will decide whether to accept the finance committee's recommended $125 million budget. That includes a $48.2 million school budget–a 3.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

There are 43 articles on this year's warrant, including questions regarding the operating budget, money to study the repair or replacement of Kennedy Middle School, and an amendment to the town's bylaws that would place a moratorium on the opening of any medical marijuana dispensaries within the town.

Articles 38 and 39 would place a moratorium on establishing any medical marijuana facility within the town until May 1, 2014.

Massachusetts medical marijuana law was approved by voters in November 2012 and became effective Jan. 1, 2013. However, Town Administrator Martha White said that the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health had yet to draft rules regulating marijuana dispensaries by the time Natick's Town Meeting Warrant was drafted.

White said that it didn't make any sense for Natick to create zoning regulating a medical marijuana treatment center until the state's regulations could be reviewed.

A yes vote on Article 5 would appropriate more than $224,000 from its free cash fund to an OPEB liability trust fund that voters authorized by Town Meeting in 2011. OPEB – an acronym for Other Post Employee Benefits – refers to benefits that a municipality is mandated to pay its retired employees. According to the governor's office, the cost of public employee health benefits has resulted in a more than $40 billion liability for the commonwealth and municipalities combined. Should the state choose to enforce the liability on municipalities, Natick could be on the hook for $117 million, according to White.

"Most communities are trying to get a head start on this," White said. "The liability is so staggering. Imposing this require on local government is a very wrong-headed thing to do. The notion is that employers who offer health care to employees, post-retirement, have liability such that if they were to go out of business, they would not be able to fund that liability."

White said the odds of a municipality going out of business are extremely slim, and the potential mandate from the state was "overly onerous."

Live broadcasts of Town Meeting can be viewed on Comcast Channel 9, RCN Channel 15, or Verizon Channel 28.

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