Medical Marijuana

Bernardston board: ‘no’ to medical pot shop

Seeks ban on marijuana dispensaries

BERNARDSTON — Medical marijuana is just fine, but a dispensary doesn’t belong in Bernardston, according to the town’s selectmen.

“I’m all for medical marijuana, but do we want it in our town?” Chairwoman Virginia Budness asked rhetorically at a Wednesday board meeting. “I don’t think we have the resources or police (to deal with a dispensary).”

Her fellow selectmen agreed that medical marijuana has its merits, but felt the town is ill-equipped to deal with a medical marijuana merchant within its borders. They unanimously voted Wednesday to have the Planning Board draft a bylaw banning dispensaries.

Last November, the state’s voters approved a measure that legalizes medical marijuana. The law allows for the establishment of up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries in the first year, with a minimum of one per county, and a maximum of five.

The state Department of Public Health was given until May 1 to come up with regulations for dispensaries, and determine the amount of the “60-day supply” the law allows patients to possess.

Selectmen hope to have a bylaw banning dispensaries ready for voters by the annual town meeting, the date of which is yet to be determined.

“(Medical marijuana) is a great thing, and I feel bad for the people who need to use it,” said Selectman Louis Bordeaux. “But quite frankly, I’m not sure Bernardston is the place to establish (a dispensary).”

“Off the top of my head, I’d have to say no,” said Selectman Robert Raymond, citing possible strains on the town’s small Police Department.

“I could see a dispensary causing a need for increased staffing,” said Police Chief James Palmeri in a telephone interview. His department has three full- and seven part-time officers. Most days, he said, no more than two officers are on duty at a time.

Palmeri said medical marijuana has been a topic of discussion at meetings of the Franklin County Chiefs of Police since the bill’s passage in November.

“It’s still really fresh,” said Palmeri. “The Franklin County chiefs have been looking into other states with medical marijuana, and what’s actually taking place at (dispensaries). There’s also the question of whether medical marijuana violates federal law.”

Though medical marijuana is legal in 17 states, it remains illegal at the federal level. In recent years, several dispensaries in California have been raided and shut down by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and last year hundreds more received dire warnings of criminal charges and asset seizure should they remain open, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Another concern is whether a dispensary’s legal stash would invite criminal action.

“If people knew there were a place that they could get marijuana with a simple break-in and larceny, that’s something we’d have to look at,” said Palmeri.

Since medicinal marijuana will be restricted to those deemed in need by a doctor, recreational users will still need to obtain the drug illicitly. Palmeri said marijuana stolen from a dispensary would likely wind up for sale on the street.

As Colorado eyes the January 2014 opening of recreational marijuana dispensaries, police in Denver say burglaries are their number one issue with medical marijuana, which voters first approved in 2000. Denver Police Chief Robert White told the Denver Post that there were 102 marijuana-related burglaries in his city in 2012.

“I believe in (medical marijuana), but it needs to be somewhere it can be controlled better,” said former Selectman Stanley Garland, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. He, too, cited security concerns, suggesting that criminals may want to burglarize a building that stocks the drug.

There’s also the issue of supply and demand, and how far out of their way patients may go to get their prescription pot.

If Franklin County gets the maximum five dispensaries, the demand would be spread amongst them, but if the county were to receive only one, and it wound up in town, it could create an influx of patients, said selectmen.

“If a dispensary were to be put in Bernardston, it wouldn’t just be for residents. People would come from far and wide across the county. It would be quite an endeavor,” said Bordeaux.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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