Municipal Moratoriums Confront Medical Marijuana License Applicants

Oct 29, 2013

Voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved legalizing medical marijuana in 2012. But many local communities are putting temporary bans in place as the deadline for final applications for state licensed marijuana treatment centers approaches.

Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

About a third of the state’s 351 cities and towns have put in place moratoriums on medical marijuana treatment centers, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Springfield is the largest city in the state to adopt a moratorium. It was approved by the city council Monday night.

Attorney General Martha Coakley determined last spring that communities could not ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but could take up to a year to write zoning laws to regulate the facilities. Springfield City Councilor Bud Williams says the moratorium buys the city time to address a complex issue.

Springfield’s moratorium on medical marijuana centers will last until June 30, 2014 or when local zoning laws are adopted, whichever comes first.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is expected to begin accepting final applications from people seeking medical marijuana licenses next month.

Michael Cutler, an attorney who represents people seeking licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries, says applicants may bypass communities with moratoriums.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno insists the moratorium is not being put into place to discourage medical marijuana providers from looking for locations in Springfield.

Sarno said his administration has studied the experiences of California and Colorado with the medical marijuana industry.

Springfield will require a two-phase application process for anyone seeking to open a medical marijuana business in the city. The initial applications are due December 4th.

City Solicitor Ed Pikula said Springfield’s application process will work in parallel with the state licensing process.

Communities that have not adopted moratoria are working on zoning laws   A special town meeting is scheduled  for November 4th in Amherst to vote on a medical marijuana zoning bylaw.

The state public health department last month approved 158 preliminary applications for medical marijuana licenses.  The law allows for up to 35 facilities to be licensed in the first year. Each of the state’s 14 counties is to have one dispensary, but no more than five.