AMESBURY — Now that Massachusetts voters have approved the legalization of medical marijuana, it’s now up to local communities to figure out how they’re going to deal with the new “pot shops” that will eventually start popping up in the area.
The newly passed law will allow up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries to be opened in the state, with at least one, but no more than five, per county. As a result, many local communities, including Newburyport, have begun discussing amendments to their zoning regulations that would restrict where the dispensaries can and can’t be opened.
Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer said he has discussed the issue with the other members of the Merrimack Valley Mayors and Managers Coalition, and the consensus they reached was that the best course of action for now would be to have their planners look at the situation and determine what the best course of action would be.
“I know some communities have jumped out ahead on this issue, and I’m happy to let them take the lead,” Kezer said. “What I’ve asked my folks is let’s take a look at it and figure out what we need to be doing.”
Kezer declined to speculate where in Amesbury the dispensaries could be allowed, saying he’d prefer to wait and hear what his planners think before giving that any thought.
Even though the law’s provisions went into effect on Jan. 1, the state Department of Public Health has until May 1 to issue regulations on who will run the new dispensaries, how they’ll be operated and where they can be located, among other issues.
Nobody knows what those regulations will look like at this point, leading many communities to take a defensive stance. The worry is that without zoning amendments, communities could get stuck with a dispensary in a high traffic area downtown, or near a school.