Town meeting voters approved a zoning by-law Thursday night aimed at ensuring that a medical marijuana dispensary will not be able to set up shop in Wakefield.
The by-law passed with a 143-9 vote following a presentation by Police Chief Richard Smith, who laid out a number of different concerns about the way Question 3 - the ballot initiative approved by voters on November 6th allowing medical marijuana in Massachusetts - will be implemented and what some of its unintended effects could be.
"Although I have deep compassion for those that are ill and infirm, I also feel that allowing a compassion center is not a fit for the town of Wakefield," said the Chief, who noted that the law will allow up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries to open in Massachusetts. Since the dispensaries would be nonprofit, he noted, there is also no revenue potential offered under the Massachusetts law, nor would there be dosage or quality controls.
Smith also pointed out that marijuana cultivation and commerce remain illegal under federal law, and showed some data illustrating that states with medical marijuana laws have seen increases in substance abuse problems and the related crimes that tend to come with it. As a cash business, he added, dispensaries could be attractive to organized crime elements, and those who run them and use them could also be at higher risk of being crime victims.
"We anticipate a wide-ranging impact on healthcare, criminal justice, public health, taxation, agriculture and zoning," said the Chief, who also pointed out that there is already a fair amount of alcohol and marijuana abuse among Wakefield and Massachusetts young people. "We have enough problems with driving under the influence of alcohol," said Smith. "I don't want to see that double."
After town meeting, Smith told Wakefield Patch that "I think the community has spoken," and that residents "realize the inherent dangers" of having medical marijuana dispensaries in town under the terms of the new law.
The town's medical marijuana bylaw was motivated in part by the anticipation that voters would approve Question 3. Back in September, this website reported on a talking about the desire of local officials to avoid having medical marijuana dispensaries opening up in area towns.
However, there was also an earlier competing warrant article that would have asked the town to allow one specific entity's marijuana dispensary to open up. The measure was withdrawn by area resident Carl Swanson in mid-September, reportedly because he did not want it getting confused with the statewide Question 3 initiative.
A couple of residents pointed out that Wakefield voters had just approved Question 3 themselves the previous week in the general election. A couple of parents and at least one local business owner spoke in support of the by-law.
Finally, one resident raised an issue that could very well come back and find relevance to Wakefield and the new by-law as it is written. Apparently the zoning by-law applies only to establishments that dispense medical marijuana - which are generally seen as commercial enterprises, government institutions, and other such entities, confirmed town counsel Tom Mullen during the discussion. However, the state's new Question 3 law also apparently allows qualified patients with no reasonable access to a medical marijuana facility to cultivate their own at home.
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