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Medical Marijuana

Area workshop set on medical marijuana

With new state regulations on medical marijuana set to take effect today, some towns have been looking to control or prevent treatment centers from siting in parts of their communities, or anywhere in town.

But while the state forbids outright bans on the dispensaries, there are still zoning provisions towns can enact, as well as moratoria to help put them in place, said Phoebe Walker, community services director for the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

The COG will conduct a forum Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield to help town officials sort out appropriate zoning measures towns may consider, offer advice on moratoria and to describe recent attorney general’s rulings and what the new regulations require from doctors, patients and vendors.

Also, the session will present Massachusetts Municipal Association Public Health Liaison D.J. Wilson, municipal attorney Kay Doyle, and COG Partnership for Youth coordinator Pat Allen, and describe local options and responsibilities in permitting medical marijuana facilities as well as hardship cultivation registration.

A key discussion at the session for selectmen, planning and health boards will involve how communities can work to prevent medical marijuana from contributing to youth substance abuse.

Since the attorney general has ruled that an outright ban of dispensaries will not be allowed, Walker said, “There’s a lot of concern that if people leap onto the bandwagon of zoning these things right out of town,” those communities could face serious legal challenges.

Another concern, she said, is that the harder it is for someone to fill a valid prescription for medical marijuana, the greater the likelihood of being granted a hardship cultivation registration.

“Hardship waivers are the things local communities are worried about, because that gives a person, or their caregiver, the right to grow in the home, which is significantly less regulated,” she said.

Earlier this year, before the state Department of Public of Health issued its regulations, Bernardston considered banning a marijuana dispensary in the town, questioning whether it had the resources to provide adequate police protection. This month, Conway voters agreed to enact a one-year moratorium on siting, to give the zoning board time to see whether its zoning bylaws need to be amended to control the facilities.

Last November, the state’s voters approved the law legalizing medical marijuana, with 72 percent of Franklin County voters favoring the initiative. It allows for establishment of up to 35 dispensaries in the first year, with a minimum of one per county, and a maximum of five. The public health department was given until May 1 to come up with regulations, and determine the amount of the “60-day supply” the law allows patients to possess.

The regulations themselves are so detailed,” Walker said. “It’s incredible how much is covered. The regs respect the will of the vast majority of voters and are really, clearly about medical needs, ensuring there isn’t a ‘rent-a-doctor’ setup, like in other states. Your regular doctor has to prescribe it, and a lot of the focus is on education for doctors.”

She added that because the regulations are complete, and the expense of setting up the treatment centers will likely allow for only one such facility in the county, “towns don’t have to do much of anything. But they can.”

Among the provisions allowed, Walker said, is for towns to adjust their tobacco licensing regulations, she said, or to have the local health board inspect the dispensaries for safety and cleanliness.

“There’s no extra burden if locals don’t want to get involved,” Walker said, “But it’s not that the whole thing is going to run roughshod over the locals.”

The law allows dispensaries to cultivate, process and provide medical marijuana to patients or their caregivers. A center must be a non-profit and apply for registration, paying a fee to do so. Cultivation and storage of marijuana must be done in enclosed, locked facilities, according to the state regulations.

According to the regulations, “A qualifying patient who has ‘verified financial hardship, a physical inability to access reasonable transportation, or the lack of a treatment center within a reasonable distance of the patient’s residence’ may obtain a hardship cultivation registration,” allowing the patient or caregiver to cultivate enough plants in an enclosed, locked facility to maintain a 60-day supply of marijuana for their personal use.

On the Web: www.mass.gov/medicalmarijuana

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