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Homegrown marijuana raised as issue at Melrose hearing

Posted by Marcia Dick  November 20, 2012 09:22 AM

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Medical marijuana dispensaries would pose a threat to public health and safety, city officials said during a hearing Monday on a proposal to ban the facilities from opening in Melrose.

“These stores will create access to a drug that, despite the recent vote, continues to be illegal under the law,” said Dr. Frank Brinchiero, a member of the Board of Health.

“This is going to be an attraction for a criminal element,” said Police Chief Michael Lyle.

The two spoke at a joint public hearing of the Board of Aldermen and Planning Board at City Hall to consider a proposed zoning amendment to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from locating in Melrose.

The issue drew little interest from local residents, however. Only three people, including two Melrose High school students, addressed officials during the 45-minute hearing.

Olivia Izzi, a sophomore, and Asha Williams, a freshman, also are members of the Melrose Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

“I believe dispensing medical marijuana in the City of Melrose will increase access to youth,” Izzi said.

Williams said the dispensaries could make smoking marijuana  seem less risky to kids. “It’s already a big problem. We can see that in the schools,” she said. “I think [dispensaries] will only make that increase.”

The state’s new medical marijuana law – approved on a ballot question in the Nov. 6 election – would allow 35 dispensaries to open across the state after Jan. 1. The outlets would be allowed to grow, store, and sell medical marijuana.

The state Department of Public Health is developing regulations for the dispensaries, one of which must be located in each of the state’s 14 counties, the law states.

Only people with debilitating conditions, such as cancer, would be able to get registration cards from doctors to purchase a 60-day supply at one of the facilities, the law states.

The law also allows for people eligible to receive the drug, but who cannot travel to a dispensary, to grow their own marijuana. “Will he or she be able to grow marijuana in the home?” asked Ward 7 Alderman William Forbes.

“Only if they are unable to get to dispensary,” said Ruth Clay, the city’s public health director.

But resident Gary Condit questioned if a ban could result in Melrose residents growing marijuana at home.

“I think to go ahead and say, ‘We’re blocking it here’ . . . You’re giving licenses to amateurs to grow marijuana,” he said.

Melrose’s proposed ban follows bans adopted last week in Reading and Wakefield. The three communities – which share Clay as a public health director – started planning last summer.

Still, voters in each community voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in the Nov. 6 election.  But Clay said the results could be misread.

“Just because they voted in favor . . .does  not mean they were voting to have a dispensary in their community,” she said.

The Planning Board has 21 days to review the zoning amendment, and send a recommendation to the aldermen. That board then would have 90 days to amend zoning to ban the dispensaries.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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