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Cambridge council wants to temporarily ban marijuana dispensaries

Posted by Anne Steele  February 14, 2013 03:21 PM

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Saying she’s fearful of creating a “wild west” in the city, Mayor Henrietta Davis is pushing the City Council to approve a temporary ban on the sale of medical marijuana in Cambridge.

The mayor said at last week’s council meeting that she believes the new shops, allowed under the ballot question approved in November, could bring back the "free love" and "libertarianism" of the ‘60s.

The City Council members plan to vote whether to approve a temporary moratorium at an upcoming meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. Most members seem in favor of a temporary ban, but split over the value of a long-term moratorium.

If the plan passes, Cambridge would join a small number of towns in Massachusetts that have prevented medicinal marijuana dispensaries from opening. Wakefield, for example, passed a zoning ordinance blocking the dispensaries shortly after the law passed in November.

Massachusetts was the 19th state, including the District of Columbia, to legalize marijuana. In the Bay State, 63 percent of the residents voted in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana. Cambridge citizens overwhelming supported the change, 79 percent to 21 percent.

Cambridge’s proposal would temporarily ban dispensaries until the State Department of Public Health clarifies the medicinal marijuana law further. Many council members, including the mayor, expressed support for extending the ban.

"I think we really need to protect our community," Davis said. “I want to take the most conservative view.”

But City Council Member Minka vanBeuzekom disagreed. "We do have an obligation to do this and not stretch out the period of the moratorium," she said.

Others said that their constituents who voted for the legalization of medical marijuana might have liked it in theory, but not in practice.

"The fact that the citizens voted for this overwhelmingly doesn't mean that any of our citizens want to have one of these things next to them," said City Council Member Craig Kelley.

However, Davis and other council members are still concerned about the effects that dispensaries could have on the neighborhood.

In his proposal recommending the temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, city manager Robert Healy cited problems that other cities are having in states where medical marijuana is legal.

Healy described rising crime rates and public nuisances around dispensaries in Los Angeles, where medical marijuana is already legal. He recommended that the council could use the moratorium as time to think about the issues that dispensaries could cause.

Money laundering, drug use and other non-violent crimes worry Davis and Healy. The mayor and the city planner think that the dispensaries will bring unwanted crime.

Yet, vanBeuzekom said that while these problems are cause for concern, there is no reason to go against the voters’ expressed wishes.

"All of these things can be worked through," vanBeuzekom said of the law’s potential problems. "So I look forward to putting this moratorium in place and working quickly to get permanent zoning laws in place."

Only two Cambridge residents spoke at the open forum last week, and both supported a temporary ban.

“We are putting the cart before the horse here. The laws were so vague. We’re going too quickly,” said Gary Mello, who ran for City Council in 2011.

Cory Mashburn, a Cambridge resident, said he stood outside the polls in November trying to inform voters about the law’s possible pitfalls.

“We have to be careful with how we deal with this. We don’t know how this is going to affect the citizens,” said Mashburn. “Did those who voted know what they were voting for?”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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