Bernardston selectmen are correct — it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility of a medical marijuana dispensary locating in town, although none is in the works as yet.
Town officials, however, should take a long, hard look at the kind of action they want to take, including whether a ban is a good idea.
Whatever course of action is taken, the bottom line needs to be to protect residents from the ramifications of such a situation, but also from the regulations themselves.
Bernardston and every other town or city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is faced with the possibility of becoming home to one of the 35 such dispensaries that are supposed to open as part of November’s vote-approved ballot initiative legalizing marijuana use for medical purposes.
That potentiality has a number of communities on edge as the state’s public health department works on regulations that will cover the law’s provisions, including the licensing and selling of the drug.
From what Bernardston selectmen said last week, it’s clear that they want no part of having a dispensary in their town. All three board members expressed serious concerns about what having a medical marijuana shop could mean ... potential criminal activity, increased traffic and so forth.
“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,” Selectman Louis Bordeaux said.
Bordeaux and the others, therefore, want Bernardston to join Wakefield and Reading, which have already enacted a ban. The board is asking the Planning Board to draft a bylaw that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries, hopefully in time for residents to vote on such a measure at town meeting later this year.
But at the same time that selectmen are rushing to ban such facilities, they should also be preparing to defend such a ban in court ... and considering the cost of such a defense. Given that these dispensaries are legal here (the November vote added Massachusetts to the list of 17 other states that allow medicinal marijuana use) we can’t imagine that there won’t be legal challenges to these outright bans.
Bernardston would be better served by asking the Planning Board to develop a bylaw that sets up sensible guidelines and boundaries should someone decide that Bernardston is the right place for one of the state’s 35 dispensaries. The town could even take the approach that Woburn did earlier this month in enacting a temporary moratorium on dispensaries to provide for more time to address the issue.
The issue isn’t with being proactive, rather it’s about taking an approach that won’t cost the town time and money down the road.