Many Massachusetts towns have said “Not in my backyard” to medical marijuana. This year, Massachusetts voters backed legislation allowing medical marijuana to be sold to and used by patients who suffer from illnesses like cancer and Parkinson’s disease. The legalization of medical marijuana, however, created a new headache concerning where the product will be grown and what zoning laws should be put in place to ensure the legality of the operation.
Many MA towns where voters supported the medical marijuana legislation now balk at the proposition of allowing marijuana to be cultivated within their boarders. This rejection has caused even towns where voters supported medical marijuana by a wide margin to attempt to stall the opening of dispensaries within their borders.
Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general, has ruled that towns cannot legally ban medical marijuana dispensaries that conform to state law, but they are allowed to impose moratoriums and zoning restrictions on such properties. Coakley has already approved at least 80 moratoriums in the state.
Geoffrey Beckwith, the executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, says, “Cities and towns need extra time to prepare for the dispensaries and ensure they don't spring up in residential neighborhoods, near schools or in other inappropriate places.” Zoning laws do not get drafted and passed overnight, and it is important for towns to consider all possible problems before lifting the moratoriums to allow dispensaries to be built.
The state hopes to award licenses to the maximum 35 dispensaries allowed by law no later than January 2014, but some local moratoriums extend as far as June 30, 2014. This delay has advocates of medical marijuana concerned about just how soon dispensaries could be open and functioning. The attorney general has ruled that no moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries will extend past December 31, 2014, but that date is still a long way off for those who will benefit from the treatment of medical marijuana.
Advocates are arguing that most of the fears regarding medical marijuana dispensaries are not valid. The dispensaries will be hidden from the general public, and some argue that they will actually benefit town governments and local businesses. Sales of medical marijuana will be subject to taxes paid to the government, while dispensaries will attract customers to local businesses.
Massachusetts residents who once ardently favored the legalization of medical marijuana have just now started to face the logistical nightmare that is the medical marijuana business. Individual towns and the Martha Coakley are struggling to define the rules concerning the opening of dispensaries. Though a majority of MA voters support the use of medical marijuana, it looks like many would rather it not be sold in their backyards.
Featured image via Alexodus/Flickr.