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City Council considers temporary moratorium

Date: 5/17/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The city seeks to establish a temporary one-year moratorium on the use of medical marijuana to provide adequate time to review and understand the state regulations regarding its use, which go into effect May 24. Marijuana use for any reason remains illegal under Federal law.

Massachusetts became the eighteenth state to approve medical use of marijuana when 63.3 percent of voters supported the ballot question in the Nov. 6, 2012 election. The law became effective Jan. 1.

On its website, the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy states, "Regardless of state laws to the contrary, there is no such thing as 'medical' marijuana under Federal law. Marijuana continues to be a Schedule I substance meaning that it has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

In a memo dated May 8, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), said, "This regulation will be filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth on May 10, and will be published and effective on May 24. In the coming weeks, the department will be issuing guidance pertinent for each category of registrant. This guidance will clarify application processes and timelines, as well as requirements in the period prior to full implementation of the medical marijuana program."

The Westfield Planning Board proposed the amendment Section 4-92 to the city's Zoning Ordinance. It states, "While the city recognizes An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana (Chapter 369 of the Acts of 2012, enacted by the People for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), but since the DPH has yet to promulgate the regulations for Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, as defined and registered pursuant to the laws and regulations of the state, and where such regulations must be known and duly considered in order to effectively evaluate any impact of such novel use in regard to public health, safety and welfare, this interim restriction is hereby established."

Jay Vinskey, principal planner for the city, told Reminder Publications, "We want to make sure we have all the facts before we make a decision." He described the process of amending zoning procedures for the use as "unchartered territory" because the guidelines are not yet finalized and many details remain unclear.

Vinskey stated that the issue of location is of main concern for the Planning Board. He said that the city must determine the best location for businesses associated with the use of medical marijuana.

Ward 1 City Councilor Christopher Keefe asked Vinskey if the city is allowed to instill a 1,000-foot restriction to prevent a facility from being built near a school.

Vinskey responded, stating that certain restrictions would be allowed within "reasonable justification." He added, "This is still federally illegal, so it's subject to a raid by the feds, which could impact public safety."

At-Large City Councilor Brent Bean said, "The state threw out all these general regulations and now it's trying to fine tune it. But in the mean time all the local areas are trying to deal with this situation. There's obviously some gaps there."

Vinskey said, "The Planning Board has a due-diligence to come up with a suitable ordinance." He added that it cannot without adequate time to review the regulations and create the related ordinances.

At the May 2 meeting, the council referred the matter to its Legislative & Ordinance subcommittee for review.