AG: Cities, towns can’t ban marijuana dispensaries

(File/Reuters)
(File/Reuters)

Cities and towns can’t outright ban marijuana treatment centers – or dispensaries – from locating within the boundaries of the municipality after voters last year approved a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana in Massachusetts.

The decision released Wednesday by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office was in response to a move by the town of Wakefield, which enacted a bylaw to ban the dispensaries within the town. Coakley’s office said the bylaw was in conflict with the ballot vote that ensures access to marijuana treatment centers. 

“This legislative purpose could not be served if a municipality could prohibit treatment centers within its borders, for if one municipality could do so, we see no principled basis on which every other municipality could not do the same,” wrote Coakley in the decision. “The question is whether the legislative purpose of reasonable access to treatment centers could be achieved if every municipality banned them.”

State health officials are currently working on a draft of regulations to oversee the dispensaries. The law allows for up to 35 dispensaries in the state with at least one in each county and no more than five in one county.

Despite the decision not allowing an outright ban, Coakley’s office did approve a bylaw by the town of Burlington that temporarily banned the centers while the town reviews its zoning regulations. That temporary ban was put in place until June 2014.

“The temporary moratorium is consistent with the town’s authority to impose reasonable time limitations on development while it conducts planning studies and considers the implication of the state Department of Public Health regulations concerning such centers,” according to Coakley’s office.

Coakley’s office also ruled that cities and towns can enact zoning bylaws to regulate the dispensaries within the town’s borders.

The attorney general’s office reviews all bylaws adopted or amended by a city or town.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.


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