When the first medical marijuana dispensary opens in Massachusetts in 2014, Danvers wants to be ready.
On Tuesday, the Board of Selectmen took its first step toward deciding how it wants to regulate any proposed dispensaries.
“I think we can manage it,” Selectman Gardner Trask said. “We can not stop it now; We can put as tight a leash on it as possible.”
The dispensaries are coming to the state after voters last month approved Question 3, which will allow for the use of medical marijuana. Up to 35 dispensaries will be allowed in the state, starting in 2014.
After more than a half hour of discussion at Town Hall, the board asked Town Manager Wayne Marquis to have town planning staff develop a definition of a dispensary that would be included in the towns’ zoning bylaws. Any changes to the zoning bylaws would require Town Meeting approval.
Without the state regulations complete, “it is like shooting in the dark at this point,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis told Selectmen, after referencing a letter from Town Counsel David DeLuca. But that has not stopped many other North Shore communities from examining the ways to control or regulate dispensaries.
Several selectmen said they would support a complete ban on dispensaries in Danvers, something that could be done by defining them in the zoning bylaws and then not allowing that use in any zoning district. But some expressed concern that could open the town to a legal challenge.
Chairman Bill Clark, a farmer, noted that marijuana is the No. 1 crop in 34 states. And while the exact regulations are still being developed, Clark said he favors finding the appropriate location in town to allow a dispensary if the town is faced with an application.
Clark said he would not support allowing one near a school or children and said that there is likely a commercial or industrial area where it could be allowed.
While the ballot question allowed for up to five dispensaries per county, Trask suggested that the town limit the number of dispensaries allowed in Danvers.
“One is a good number,” Selectman Dan Bennett said.
And since the regulations have yet to be developed by state officials, it is unclear whether the dispensaries will be required to grow the marijuana on site. If that happens, it “significantly limits” where one could be placed in Danvers and all but eliminates the downtown area, Selectman Mike Powers said.
Selectman Keith Lucy was the strongest voice in support of an all out ban on dispensaries. And while voters in all but two communities backed the referendum on Nov. 6, when it comes down to allowing a dispensary in a specific community, voters appear to be opposed, Lucy said.
In Wakefield, for example, Question 3 passed by eight percentage points but an open Town Meeting vote saw a townwide prohibition on marijuana dispensaries pass 143-9.
Other selectmen, such as Bennett, said medical marijuana earned the support of voters and that should be respected.
“In my mind it is going to come to Danvers at some point,” Bennett said, later adding; “The voters voted for it so let’s find an appropriate place for it.”