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Waltham officials hope potential marijuana moratorium would buy time to look at zoning

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  April 9, 2013 12:35 PM

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A temporary moratorium that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from opening in Waltham until mid-2014 will be investigated by the Waltham City Council’s rules and ordinance committee in early May.

The moratorium, popular in many Massachusetts communities since Attorney General Martha Coakley deemed them lawful last month, would give the city until early April 2014 to figure out where dispensaries should be located in Waltham. The moratorium would also give officials time to wait for Coakley’s office to release final regulations on medical marijuana.

Daniel Romard, the Waltham city councilor who sponsored the moratorium, told other councilors Monday night that though current law says not more than five dispensaries can open in each county – and Middlesex County has over 40 municipalities – Waltham proves a prime location for the distributors.

“My gut tells me given our location, proximity to Rte. 128, Mass Pike, and public transportation, we might be a good candidate” for dispensaries to set up shop in Waltham, Romard said. “But I want to be sure we’re ready, and make sure there’s not a surprise where we might have to scramble.”

Romard also said that if a decision was reached on where to zone the dispensaries before the April 2014 deadline, the city council could act on it earlier than that date.

Councilor Edmund Tarallo, who also chairs the rules and ordinances committee, said if the city does not make a decision by the deadline, the moratorium simply becomes null and void, which would allow marijuana distributors to open in Waltham.

However, he said the only other moratorium instituted in Waltham in recent history – to slow the development of condominiums, which were being built faster than the council could regulate them – was done away with before that particular deadline.

“Waltham has no experience in not making the deadline,” Tarallo said.

Although the moratorium was deferred to the City Council’s rules and ordinances committee, and will be brought up in early May before referring back to the council for a vote, Monday’s council meeting also served as a public hearing where residents could voice their opinions on the moratorium.

Francis Stanton, an Alder Street resident, said he supported the one-year ban on medical marijuana.

“If it will happen in Waltham, I want to make sure it’s done right and done so we can preserve the community,” he said. “With the proper zoning laws, we can make sure the medical marijuana doesn’t end up in hands it’s not meant to be in.”

However, Annette Reynolds, a Lake Street resident and cancer survivor, said she feared the moratorium was a back-door way for Waltham officials to keep medical marijuana distributors out of the city.

“This legislation was voted into law last November – you’ve had seven months to take a look at the city and decide where is the best place for these, assuming a site is even placed here,” Reynolds said.

Romard assured Reynolds that that was not his intention in writing the moratorium, noting that the state has not even finished written rules that would define how medical marijuana would be regulated.

“There is a lot happening on this on a daily basis,” he said.

The state Department of Public Health on March 29 issued draft regulations for patients to obtain and use marijuana.

While the regulations are being finalized, a written recommendation from a physician acts as a medical marijuana registration card, and qualifying patients may be allowed to grow a limited supply for their own use.

State public health regulators hold public hearings on April 19, and vote on the final rules May 8. If approved, those rules will go into effect May 24.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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