The City Council postponed its vote Thursday night on a ban of medical marijuana facilities in Peabody, but the outcome of the vote is all but assured.
Councilors initially leant their support to Mayor Ted Bettencourt in November, agreeing to send the issue along to the Planning Board for a recommendation on a zoning amendment that would prohibit dispensaries or growing facilities from setting up shop anywhere in the city.
The Planning Board voted Jan. 3 unanimously in support of a zoning ban, but the subsequent recommendation, which is needed for the council to act on, was too late to make it on for the council's Jan. 10 session.
Bettencourt and councilors again briefly discussed their concerns Thursday night of medical marijuana, which was voted into law by ballot question in November, and continued the hearing until Jan. 24.
Bettencourt said he has "serious concerns" about the new law and still has yet to receive any information or guidelines from the state, which will be regulating the pot shops.
"I understand there is some value to medical marijuana, but I feel that this type of [treatment] should be done at a medical facility," Bettencourt said -- not where the average citizen can just drop in to a corner pot shop. "I’m hoping that it’s going to be very restrictive, but we don’t know at this point."
His concerns include what the rules and regulations will be, who will write them, how they will be enforced, whether cities and towns will have any local control, will there be criminal background checks on facility owners and employees, doctor/patient relationships -- there are no answers to those questions at this time.
In the absence of those answers, and with the city's health director, police chief and the District Attorney all opposed to the law, Bettencourt says it's in the best interest of Peabody to not allow marijuana facilities in the city.
"I think this is the right thing for Peabody and I’m asking for your support on this," he said Thursday.
Since the passage of the ballot measure two months ago, city councilors and the mayor have received calls from multiple individuals interested in setting up shop in Peabody. Under the law, such facilities would be nonprofit operations rather than commercial businesses.
Bettencourt argued that potential shop operators are doing their research and due diligence now in order to move quickly once state regulations and licenses are finally available. He wants to be proactive and send those startups on their way when that happens.
Only Ward 4 Councilor Bob Driscoll voted against supporting Bettencourt's request in November, arguing a ban was premature without seeing what state health officials would do. Driscoll offer any comment on the issue Thursday.
Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz again criticized the new law. He argues it's really about moving toward legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts rather than providing pain relief to patients with debilitating illnesses.
Sinewitz makes that argument because pharmaceutical pill forms containing the same or similar chemicals as in marijuana have been around for years. They are controlled and legally prescribed by a doctor. One common trade name is Marinol.
Sinewitz said he spoke from personal experience with a family member who had cancer -- he even added that the pills seemed to help with the pain.
Marinol and other similar pharmaceuticals aren't exactly the same as smoking marijuana, however -- they are less complex substances than the actual plant -- and patients in favor of traditional pot say the drugs are not as effective at relieving pain.