Despite the initial desire from Peabody city officials to act quickly on the matter before year end, a joint review of a proposed zoning ban on medical marijuana facilities between the City Council and Planning Board has been canceled and separate hearings will now be held in January.
City Clerk Tim Spanos says the Planning Board hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3 and the council hearing is Jan. 10.
"At the request of the mayor, the Dec. 27 joint hearing with the Planning Board on the medical marijuana zoning issue has been canceled. The mayor did not want to put councilors and Planning Board members out of their way so close to the holidays," Spanos said via email.
The Planning Board will consider the proposed ban from Mayor Ted Bettencourt and issue a recommendation to the City Council for a vote. The council, with the exception of Bob Driscoll, supported Bettencourt's request two weeks ago (Driscoll argued it was premature without any specific regulations yet from the state health officials).
It's not expected, but if the Planning Board were to disagree with the mayor and recommend against imposing an outright ban on all such operations in Peabody, the City Council is not beholden to that opinion and could still vote in step with Bettencourt's request.
The dispensaries are coming to Massachusetts after voters last month approved Question 3 on the ballot, allowing for the use of medical marijuana for patients with debilitating illnesses. Under the new law, up to 35 dispensaries will be allowed in the state, effective Jan. 1; however, state health officials will not be required to license treatment centers until January 2014.
The law says that at least one dispensary, but not more than five, can operate within each county.
City councilor David Gamache first raised the issue shortly after it passed on Election Day and asked his colleagues to look into a zoning restriction on dispensaries or growing facilities.
Bettencourt came back before the council last month, however, asking for an outright ban, arguing the law is too vague and expressing a number of safety concerns because of that. He said he would reconsider his position once the state Department of Public Health does draft its regulations for the facilities.
Bettencourt also noted that other cities and towns were taking similar action and the move, therefore, was not without precedent.
In related news, Danvers and Salem are looking to modify their zoning ordinances to include marijuana facilities as a medical use regulated by a special permit. That would give local zoning officials authority over approving or rejecting any petitions for dispensaries or growing facilities, as well as mapping out potential areas.
In Danvers' case, it would be up to Town Meeting to approve a change in the town's zoning bylaws to include a medical marijuana use.