GRAFTON, Mass. — In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question legalizing medical marijuana in the state. In Grafton, almost 59 percent voted to approve the measure.
Though most residents want to see the ill have access to the drug, it creates a scramble for town leaders on zoning, police, and board of health guidelines on where the dispensaries should be located, if someone wants to open one.
The sticking point is waiting for direction from the Massachusetts Department of Health. Under law, the department has until the end of April to provide details such as, how much is a 60-day supply, who would qualify to run the dispensaries, and how they must be licensed and regulated.
But the medical marijuana law goes into effect Jan. 1 leaving towns like Grafton in the lurch.
“Right now, it’s wide open,” said Robert Berger, the Grafton zoning enforcement officer. “Wherever you are allowed to have a business, that’s where you can have a dispensary.”
The new law will allow 35 centers to open in the state next year, with a maximum of five per county.
Berger has had discussions with the chief of police on creating a bylaw that would limit locations for a dispensary, if one were to be proposed.
But it takes time to create a bylaw — a petition has to be drafted, followed by reviews with selectmen, the planning board, and then a two-third approval in a Town Meeting, the next which is scheduled for May.
“I would like to see the dispensaries in restricted zones,” said Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau. “Definitely not in residential areas, definitely not in a school area.”
Crepeau said lawmakers have yet to craft guidelines for law enforcement and until they do, they don’t have much to work with.
Because of the constraints that all towns face, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, a coalition of cities and towns, is calling for a six month delay implementing the law until lawmakers and municipalities can catch up.
Lois Luniewicz, the health agent for the Town of Grafton, said her department would prefer to stay away from zoning issues and instead focus on the public health side of the debate. But she, like Berger and Crepeau, is not sure what will happen next. “Until those regulations are drafted, we’re sitting back.”