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City Council Joins Mayor on Plan to Ban Marijuana Shops

Peabody is moving ahead with the intent to ban medical marijuana facilities from setting up shop in Peabody.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt is now one step closer to getting medical marijuana facilities banned in Peabody.

City councilors agreed Tuesday night to move forward on a zoning amendment that would prohibit both dispensaries and growing facilities from operating anywhere in the city.

The vote was not unanimous, however; only Ward 4 City Councilor Robert Driscoll opposed pursuing a ban because he feels it would be "premature" without having any details from the state on the governance and operation of these new facilities.

"I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the city of Peabody to have medical marijuana at this time," Bettencourt said, noting the opposition from local health and police officials and listing off a number of concerns they all share.

He said those concerns, which largely deal with the rules and regulations that will govern marijuana facilties, have so far been unanswered by state health officials. He recited a number of questions, such as who will write the rules, how will prescriptions be obtained, what will doctor/patient relationships look like and if there will be criminal background checks on directors and employees.

"Those are questions that are unanswered, and as far as I know, not even discussed [at this time]," Bettencourt said.

He acknowledged in a later interview with reporters that those issues will likely be hashed out by state lawmakers and the Department of Public Health, but with Peabody and many other communities in "uncharted waters," he doesn't want to leave any opportunity for marijuana facilities to open up in the city before then.

Bettencourt said he feels it's an issue of public safety.

"I’m hoping that these restrictions and rules are very tight. At this point in time, I think this is a decision that is in the best interest of the city of Peabody," he said, adding he would consider revisiting the issue in the future when such state guidelines are in place.

Councilors also discussed what might happen if a legal challenge were posed to the city's ban, and the general consensus was that if a judge did side with the plaintiff, the city would then be forced to identify a zone in which to locate a facility and thus still retain some measure of control.

Longtime ward councilor David Gamache said that has been past practice on zoning issues appealed in court.

"This is an issue we should be proactive on rather than reactive," Bettencourt said.

Gamache, who initially referred the issue into committee to look at creating local zoning restrictions for marijuana facilities, said he wanted to act quickly on the issue, in part, to discourage interested parties from locating in Peabody.

He said the state won't have any details settled by Jan. 1, but that won't stop companies or individuals from going town-to-town to open up a facility before then and start selling pot. In fact, a few councilors said Tuesday night they've already been approached.

"What’s going to happen is [they] will come knocking, but if Peabody has a restriction, then they will go elsewhere," he said.

Peabody is not alone in seeking to ban medical marijuana operations -- Wakefield and Reading have both accomplished that via Town Meeting and city officials in Melrose are considering similar action. Zoning amendments have also been proposed in Salem, Woburn and Malden.

Bettencourt did acknowledge that a majority of Peabody voters disagreed with him on the issue at the polls and approved the ballot question, as they did elsewhere in Massachusetts.

"But the citizens of Peabody voted for me to be the mayor and I have to make difficult choices," Bettencourt replied. He said he's going to "stand firm" on his decision.

The matter will now go to the Planning Board for a recommendation on a zoning amendment and then come back to the full City Council for a vote. In the interest of time, the Planning Board and City Council may hold a joint public hearing. If approved there, the restriction would become official once signed by the mayor.

Bob Croce November 28, 2012 at 05:28 PM
The mayor's job isn't to side with "populist free thinkers." His job is to rebuild Peabody on all levels after 10 years of malaise. I want him to LEAD. I don't want him bowing to so-called free-thinking special interests groups. I want him doing what's right for Peabody's future, and Peabody could do with a little less vice.
Bob Croce November 28, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I agree it should be dispensed at a legit pharmacy. But that's not the case here. And ... it's not really about this specific drug. It's about the clientele for these shops. Sure there will be good citizens coming with legit medical conditions. But as has been the case in California, these pot shops will also attract a less desirable element. http://www.eyeonpeabody.com
Bob Croce November 28, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I never said pot turns anyone into a "violent criminal." Neither do strip clubs or XXX-rated book stores, but we don't want anymore of those either up on Route 1.
Rob Lyons November 29, 2012 at 11:02 AM
You said police have enough crime to deal with, implying a pot shop would attract criminals. this isnt true. and this is a simple case of NIMBY. we voted this in but nobody wants it in their town. cant have your cake and eat it too
Mary Lou November 30, 2012 at 04:23 PM
apparently the mayor (king) and his council have spoken -- overriding the voters - which mayor thinks is why he was elected. The "proactive" mayor and council are operating from place of fear and hysteria with no facts or basis meanwhile sick people are suffering. It's forward thinking leadership like this that gets us empty storefronts on main street (and keeps them that way). Had hope for young mayor but see decades of decay will continue in Peabody.

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