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Needham Planning Board votes not to sponsor medical marijuana moratorium

Posted by Evan Allen  January 29, 2013 12:15 PM

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Needham’s Planning Board voted last week not to sponsor a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation that was requested by the Board of Selectmen. The selectmen will vote tonight on whether to sponsor the moratorium themselves.

Needham is considering the moratorium because of concerns over how to regulate the newly legalized use of medical marijuana. In November, Massachusetts voted to allow patients suffering from painful diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and AIDS to use medical marijuana to alleviate suffering; the state department of health is working on regulations to guide the law’s implementations, which will not be out until May.

Needham officials are considering a moratorium because they are worried that they will not have enough time to write their own local regulations regarding issues such as zoning before dispensaries begin moving into town.

Planning Board chairman Bruce Eisenhut said that the board’s vote was not a judgment on the moratorium itself: rather, the board felt that the Board of Selectmen was the more appropriate sponsor.

“We expressed no opinion on the merits of the moratorium,” said Eisenhut.

The concerns prompting the moratorium, he said, seemed to have more to do with the police department and the Board of Health than with typical zoning issues. Though he said there are some zoning issues involved, such as where dispensaries could be located, the majority of concerns raised by the public seemed to have to do with potential abuse of marijuana, which is not a Planning Board issue.

“It’s an interesting issue: what are the zoning concerns? What’s the experience in other jurisdictions in terms of traffic and parking? Noise, the smell, the odor. What’s the classification or use,” he said. “Those are really the issues of zoning. Those aren’t the issues that people are expressing concerns about in the press.”

At the Board of Selectmen meeting tonight, according to information in the agenda packet, the board will vote whether to initiate the amendment themselves.

The moratorium would ban medical marijuana facilities and cultivation until March 1, 2014.

If the selectmen vote to initiate the article, the Planning Board would hold a public hearing and make a recommendation to Town Meeting on whether to support the moratorium in May.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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