WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Medicinal marijuana will become legal in Massachusetts on Jan. 1, but Westborough Town Planner Jim Robbins said advertising a bylaw could hold off dispensaries until a vote at the March Town Meeting.
"I'd like to see us come up with a bylaw that regulates the location and the uses, but there are things as a Planning Board we don't have the authority to regulate," board member Mark Silverberg said of having of marijuana dispensaries in town.
A discussion was held at Tuesday's Planning Board meeting with Police Chief Alan Gordon, Selectman George Barrette, School Committee Vice Chairman Stephen Doret, Board of Health member Steve Baccari, building inspector Tin Tway and Town Counsel Greg Franks.
In the first public discussion of the new law, the option of completely banning dispensaries, also referred to as "treatment centers," was weighed against strict zoning.
In the first year, 35 dispensaries can be opened. The addition of more will be at the discretion of the Department of Public Health.
"We felt it would be prudent to convene members of the community and boards to discuss what the ramifications of this law would be," Planning Board Chairman Lester Hensley said.
In Westborough, Ballot Question 3 authorizing the sale of medical marijuana received 5,367 votes in favor to 3,347 against.
The board agreed that banning dispensaries would be ideal but expressed concern that such a ban might be overturned in court. The board discussed a decision in Wakefield, which has banned dispensaries in all zones.
Franks said he has met with attorneys, and there was no consensus as to how a ban might fare in court.
"There was no agreement at all as to whether a complete ban would hold up," he said.
Robbins agreed to draw up a bylaw draft with a "severability clause." The board said it is leaning toward a total ban, with a secondary zoning plan if it is voted down. Severability allows for a portion of the bylaw to be struck, while allowing the rest to remain intact.
A public hearing must be advertised before Jan. 1 to hold off dispensaries until a Town Meeting vote can be held, Robbins said.
The Planning Board scheduled its next meeting for Thursday, Dec. 13. Defining terms in the "loosely worded" law, as well as cultivation, home growing, driving under the influence and costs of law enforcement were brought up as concerns.
"The issue here is simply that the state has voted in favor of this stuff," said Doret. "Now we need to protect the town as best we can."