The impending implementation of Question 3, which will allow dispensaries to sell marijuana for medical purposes in Massachusetts, has lit a fire under city officials and got them thinking about how to handle pot being sold in the Hub.
“Now that it has passed, we haven’t been able to find anywhere, clearly since it’s a new issue in our state, where [the dispensaries] could be legally zoned,” said City Councilor Rob Consalvo. “With this new issue it’s important we get ahead of the curve so we are not reacting when a store opens up.”
On Election Day, statewide, 63% of those who voted were in favor of Question 3, an act to eliminate criminal and civil penalties for the use of marijuana by qualifying patients, while only 37% voted against the measure.
Under the wording of the proposal, 35 dispensaries can be setup throughout the state to sell and distribute pot to a person diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, after receiving written certification from a physician.
The rules of the new law will be written by the state’s Department of Public Health.
The DPH will have about four months to craft the law, under the provisions of the proposed ballot initiative, before registering at least one dispensary in each county in Massachusetts.
To get ahead of the change in the laws, Consalvo filed for a hearing at City Hall to talk about what Boston can do about finding the appropriate places for the marijuana dispensaries, their zoning classification, and where they should be located in city neighborhoods.
“We are sympathetic and respect the fact people are terminally ill and they may want this kind of use, but the question is where do they go? We need to update the zoning codes to reflect this law,” said Consalvo.
Consalvo said he would like to avoid putting potential dispensaries in residential neighborhoods and spots where there are schools.
Even populated business areas are too close for comfort.
“We could get creative and put them in our medical areas, like the Longwood Medical area,” he said, adding it would then become “one-stop shopping for people regularly visiting hospitals” who need the drug for treatment.
“They go there anyway when sick, so why not that,” he said.
Even Mayor Thomas Menino is taking the new legislation into consideration.
“This is not an issue that should be taken lightly,” said John Guilfoil, a spokesman from Menino’s office. “The mayor will meet with several city agencies including The Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Police to ensure this new issue is handled properly.”
A hearing is set for November 28, with members of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, DPH, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Police Department, the Department of Neighborhood Development, and residents. A follow-up hearing will be scheduled for ten days after that, Consalvo said.
“In a city the size of Boston, there has to be a way to figure this out,: said Consalvo. “I don’t want to engage in debate on whether the law should have passed or not. We need to step back and see what controls we have and what’s within our purview.
High Time for New Changes
Three municipalities, specifically, have already drafted legislation that will go before their constituents to keep weed dispensaries from opening in their respective communities.
In Melrose, Wakefield and Reading, even though voters were in favor of legalizing the drug for medical purposes, each community is currently working on ways to keep the dispensaries from opening up on their streets.
Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan told BostInno last week that voters who backed legalizing medical marijuana are a lot like voters wanting a new school—they are in favor of it happening, they just don’t want to deal with paying for it.
“If you had asked people if they were in support of [Question3] they would say yes. And then if you asked if they’d like [a dispensary] on their street, they would say no,” said Dolan. “It’s the ‘not in my backyard’ challenge.”
Dolan said in Melrose, they were already looking at a way to ban the dispensaries prior to Question 3 passing.