ANDOVER — A Newburyport-based non-profit wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary in town, but the Board of Selectmen may try to snuff out the idea, at least temporarily, Monday night.
During the board’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, a discussion is planned on whether to impose a one-year ban on locating such businesses in town.
“If we are going to have a special town meeting in the fall, and I’m not sure if we are, my recommendation Monday night is that (Selectmen) include a medical marijuana moratorium,” said Town Manager Reginald ‘Buzz’ Stapczyinski. “That would give us some time to think through a zoning ordinance with the planning board about what would be the appropriate location.”
He said a one-year moratorium would enable town officials to hold public hearings, conduct a study and determine the best direction for the town. Haverhill and Lawrence both currently have temporary bans on marijuana dispensaries for the same reason, as do several other communities across the state.
Over the last three months, Chris Edwards of Alternative Therapies Group of Newburyport, along with consultant and former state representative David Torrisi, have held one-on-one meetings with local officials to discuss their plans. He said they have spoken to the police chief as well as the health and building inspectors along with all five selectmen and the town manager.
He said the response from people in town has been mixed.
“Some are opposed for political reasons, others are in favor,” he said. “People realize there is a lot of healing this industry can bring to people. It’s unfortunate, that political pressures or motivations can bring out opposition.”
Last fall, a medical marijuana ballot question passed overwhelmingly in the state. In Andover, 61 percent of the voters approved the proposal. State regulators recently issued guidelines for the businesses. The dispensaries could only sell marijuana to people who have a doctor’s prescription for medical marijuana based on a diagnosed medical problem.
Some Selectmen, meanwhile, aren’t so sure medical marijuana is a good fit for the town.
“In concept, I don’t want it in Andover,” said Selectman Paul Salafia, adding that if last May’s Town Meeting warrant hadn’t been so busy, a moratorium would have been up for discussion.
“We had very large fish to fry at the last town meeting,” he said. “It should have been on the last town meeting, but we didn’t get to it. Right after town meeting, they began targeting towns that don’t have a moratoriums.”
Selectmen chairman Alex Vispoli said that although a majority of town residents voted in favor of the medical marijuana law, he didn’t.
“The people voted for it, but I didn’t vote for it,” he said. “Nor would I favor having one in Andover.”
Vispoli said Edwards and his backers have targeted a downtown location as one possibility for their dispensary.
“That is alarming on many fronts,” he said. “You have children, it’s near schools. These folks have targeted Andover. It’s important to get it on the agenda.”
Edwards, who is also working with a consultant affiliated with a marijuana dispensary in Maine, wouldn’t identify the specific locations his group has in mind, except to say he hopes to locate a dispensary in a medical building of some kind.
“We have letters of intent on a few properties,” he said. “We already have come to terms with several property owners, but we won’t be occupying those properties, since part of it’s conditional on the town zoning.”
Overall, he said, Andover is a good place for a medical marijuana dispensary because of its location and safety record.
“It’s attractive for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Because of the population numbers and surrounding communities, it’s an effective place to be and you can reach a lot of patients. Also, accessibility - it’s at a crossroads of (Interstates) 495 and 93, making it easy to get to. It’s also a safe community, which is a credit to local law enforcement, so patients would feel safe picking up their medicine.”
The town can’t put an outright ban on medical marijuana businesses. Instead, the state attorney general has allowed communities to come up with zoning amendments that permit the businesses to open in certain places. The zoning would be akin to adult-business zones that allow strip clubs or adult bookstores in certain places but not in others.
Edwards said some communities have even gone so far as to put marijuana-related businesses in the same placeadult zones, which he said was “highly inappropriate. That shows they don’t understand what we’re about. We think it would go better to be in a traditional medical environment. That’s where it makes sense.”