We know the medical marijuana dispensary issue can be complex, so we tried to break it down as much as possible, specifically as it relates to Arlington. Here are eight things to know about the issue in town:
1.) How we got here: Last November, Massachusetts residents voted, 63-37 percent, to legalize medical marijuana, becoming the 18th state to do so. In Arlington, the ballot question was supported by 68 percent of the voters.
The new law took effect Jan. 1, and the state Department of Health then drafted medical marijuana regulations, which were released last week. The regulations are expected to be finalized in May and then medical marijuana dispensary applications can start coming in 90 days after that, so in August or September.
2.) What’s Arlington doing to prepare: The Arlington Redevelopment Board is asking Town Meeting to consider two articles on medical marijuana dispensaries later this month.
One, Article 7, would zone medical marijuana dispensaries so that they would only be allowed in the town’s central business district (shown in red on the attached map). The other, Article 8, would put a moratorium on the dispensaries, or delay them from coming, until after the town’s 2014 Town Meeting next April.
The Board of Selectmen has also supported both articles.
3.) Why no proposed ban: Town officials assumed that an attempted ban of dispensaries would be overturned by the state attorney general, which is exactly what has happened in Wakefield, Reading and other municipalities.
4.) Article 7: Instead of a ban, town officials wanted to create a “responsible and reasonable approach” for managing the dispensaries, according to Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.
In Article 7, the dispensaries would be limited to Arlington’s central business (B5) district, or the retail area immediately surrounding the town’s main intersection of Mass. Ave. and Mystic and Pleasant streets. The district, along Mass. Ave., only extends west to about Water Street and east to roughly Alton Street.
Chapdelaine said town officials chose this central business district because they wanted any potential dispensaries in the “eye of the public” not “on a side street, or in a neighborhood, or a dark alley for lack of a better term.”
He said they thought, based on “public scrutiny,” the dispensaries would be forced to “operate in a very professional manner.”
In addition to this zoning, the dispensaries would also be subject to environmental review and need permits from the town and state boards of health. They would also need to be the primary use of the retail space.
Without the zoning, the dispensaries could potentially go in any retail space in town, according to Chapdelaine.
5.) Article 8: The moratorium, or delay, until after the town’s 2014 Town Meeting next April would give the town more time to understand all of the nuances of the application process, according to Chapdelaine. It would also give the town the opportunity to revise its zoning plan at next year’s Town Meeting, he said.
A similar moratorium was passed in Burlington and upheld by the state attorney general.
6.) The process: Arlington’s 252 Town Meeting members have the final say later this month. Town Meeting begins at 8 p.m. Monday, April 22, and with both articles so early on the warrant, it’s possible that they will both be addressed that first night.
Since both articles are zoning bylaw amendments, they will require a 2/3 majority to pass.
7.) Number of dispensaries: Each county in Massachusetts has to have at least one dispensary and no more than five, according to the drafted regulations. Chapdelaine said it’s “very possible” that none could open in Arlington.
8.) More information: The state Department of Health website has a section dedicated to medical marijuana. Also, please leave comments or questions in the comments section below.