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Framingham Planning Board takes up marijuana bylaw

Posted by John Swinconeck  July 12, 2013 10:52 AM

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John Swinconeck for Your Town
Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member James M. Pillsbury decries Framingham’s proposed medical marijuana bylaw as over-regulation.

About a dozen people showed up to a Framingham Planning Board public hearing on a draft zoning bylaw to regulate a medical marijuana facility in town on Thursday. Meanwhile, planners are looking at restricting where such a facility could be located.

Framingham Planning Board Interim Administrator and Associate Program Planner Amanda L. Loomis said possible locations include the Framingham Technology Park, commercial areas near Route 9, and the so-called “golden triangle” of shopping centers.

Loomis said the goal is to keep any growing facility or dispensary away from residential areas, libraries, town beaches, and anywhere that school children play.

Planned locations are inspired, in part, by medical marijuana facilities in Maine, including Biddeford, Portland, and Brewer, that have opened away from downtown hubs but are still close to major hospitals.

The proposed bylaw regulating how and where a medical marijuana facility operates in Framingham had both supporters and detractors.

“I’m sorry to hear more and more ‘reefer madness’ in this bylaw,” said Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member James M. Pillsbury, referencing a 1930s propaganda film made to highlight the dangers of marijuana.

“If this is about protecting the health and safety of Framingham residents, who are you protecting them from?” Pillsbury told the board. “These are sick people asking for medicine.”

Pillsbury criticized the draft as “mean-spirited.”

“We are the medical Mecca of the MetroWest,” Pillsbury said. “We ought to be opening our arms up to a medical marijuana.”

Precinct 16 Town Meeting member William J. LaBarge said that medical marijuana ought to be treated like any other prescription drug, in a pharmacy.

The bylaw would have to be approved at a future Town Meeting in order to take effect. Both Pillsbury and LaBarge said they would oppose the bylaw.

Without a local bylaw in place, a medical marijuana facility could go anywhere in town where it is not restricted by Massachusetts law, according to Loomis. Commonwealth law restricts marijuana facilities in areas close to schools, among other locations.

“It could be next to your house,” Loomis said, because “we have nothing that governs this type of use.”

The draft bylaw deals primarily with marijuana dispensaries and with growing centers.

Under the proposed bylaw, no marijuana facility may operate within a single family or general residential zone. No signs depicting figures or symbols related to marijuana are allowed, marijuana and marijuana products must not be visible from the exterior, and dispensaries must be big enough to that people are not waiting in line outside the building.

Local applicants must first be licensed by the state.

Planning Board Chair Christine Long pointed out that marijuana is still considered an illegal drug under federal law, and unlike prescription pharmaceuticals, it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, making local regulation more important.

Precinct 10 Town Meeting member Kathy McCarthy said a marijuana facility ought to be regulated in order to protect the rights of voters. “There is absolutely no reason to consider this mean-spirited by putting our ducks in a row,” McCarthy said.

Planning Board member Stephanie A. Mercandetti said the proposed bylaw “meets the will of the voters while respecting the zoning bylaw.”

Precinct 12 Town Meeting member Betty Muto said it was important to cultivate a “strong, strict and highly regulated bylaw.”

Scott Hawkins is a principal with Grun Strategic LLC, a firm that supports companies in the medical marijuana business with offices in Boston and Oakland, Calif., and who has clients, which he declined to name, that he said are interested in setting up shop in the area west of Boston. Speaking after the hearing, Hawkins said the draft bylaw is sensitive to the needs of Framingham while being fair to nearby patients with qualifying conditions.

In May, Framingham Town Meeting members bucked a trend embraced by many other nearby communities by rejected a proposed moratorium on allowing a medical marijuana facility in town. That amendment to the town's zoning bylaw, sponsored by the Planning Board, received 51 "yes" votes and 62 "no" votes, with five abstentions, and would have needed a two-thirds majority in order to pass. The intent of the proposal, as written, was to give the town adequate time to consider whether or not to allow a facility in town, and what restrictions would apply.

Massachusetts voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana via statewide ballot in November. The measure calls for a maximum of 35 nonprofit dispensaries across the state, with at least one and not more than five in each of the state’s 14 counties.

Communities cannot ban dispensaries but can impose zoning laws that restrict their location, according to a March 13 ruling from Attorney General Martha Coakley.

The hearing was scheduled to continue Sept. 5.

Contact John Swinconeck at Follow @johnswinc on Twitter.

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